Laurence Reisman | 28 Jul, 2021
As local COVID hospitalizations hit record, docs weigh in on vaccine, future | Opinion
Laurence Reisman | Published July 28, 2021
With a record number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients on the Treasure Coast, Dr. Moti Ramgopal hears a common refrain.
“ ‘I wish I’d taken the vaccine,’ ” the St. Lucie County-based infectious disease specialist said he hears over and over. “I wish I had a dollar for everyone who is telling me that. I’d be a rich man.”
So would Dr. Glenn Tremml, who has treated dozens of COVID-19 patients the past few weeks in the emergency room of Cleveland Clinic-Indian River Hospital. He said only one patient he saw remained anti-vaccine.
“Mercifully, most should survive, but a couple of weeks in the hospital is no joke,” Tremml said.
Out of a record 179 COVID-19 patients at Cleveland Clinic hospitals in Martin (60), St. Lucie (64), Indian River (55) counties, 25 were on ventilators as of Tuesday morning, said Scott Samples, senior director of communications. The hospitals have so many patients they’ve had to postpone some surgeries and procedures.
Tiffany Woods, communications director for HCA, said in an email Tuesday its hospitals in Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie also had increases in patients with COVID-19.
Physician saw this wave coming
Ramgopal, who treats St. Lucie County patients through his Midway Immunology and Research Center, showed great prescience when I interviewed him in late April.
He was pleased vaccinations had helped limit new cases locally, but he worried about deterioration because of international mobility and other factors. He pointed to what at the time was a deadly COVID-19 rampage in India.
“Why is this happening? In short, they let their masks down; they let their guard down,” he said at the time. “They had 1% or 2% of the country vaccinated and they said, ‘We got it under control.’ ”
With vaccinations increasing and new cases declining Gov. Ron DeSantis ended his COVID-19 emergency order in early May. He wiped out local government efforts to enforce COVID-19 restrictions.
Later in the month he gave clemency to folks cited for violating COVID-19 laws. On June 3, the Florida Department of Health issued its last daily COVID report, listing hospitalizations and local deaths.
By the week starting June 11, Florida hit a low of 10,459 weekly cases with only 3.3% of residents taking a COVID-19 test positive, the department reported.
Shedding COVID cases, masks
Meantime, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said it was OK for vaccinated people to stop wearing masks. That includes less than 60% of Floridians who have had at least one shot, the state said, including 84% of those 65 and older.
The vaccination rate slowed and masks started to come off in local stores and elsewhere. By the week ending July 16, there were 73,199 statewide cases and a 15.1% positivity rate.
The Treasure Coast followed a comparable trajectory. It was no surprise to Ramgopal.
“Taking the masks away is our biggest problem. We shouldn’t have done that,” Ramgopal said. “Now we’re worse than last time. This (form of the virus) is more aggressive.
“The past 10 days has been like a nightmare. It’s like a bomb exploded.”
Dr. Gerald Pierone, chief medical officer and founding physician of Whole Family Health Center, with offices in Fort Pierce and Vero Beach, recently sent a letter to his club, urging members and staff to get vaccinated.
“People are getting sick, inadvertently exposing others; isolation and quarantine numbers are mounting, and our hospital is filling again with desperately ill patients,” he wrote, citing national numbers showing 97% of hospitalizations and 99% of deaths are among the unvaccinated.
Pierone, echoing comments by other local health experts, said patients “are sicker and much more miserable than the previous waves.” A great majority are under 65, most with conditions such as asthma, obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.
The physicians said, on average, younger patients have a better chance of surviving than folks in their 80s and 90s months ago.