Florida Hospital Canceling Elective Surgeries Amid COVID Increase, U.S. Cases Tripling

The UF Health Jacksonville hospital in Florida is canceling elective surgeries after the number of COVID-19 patients at the facility, most of whom were unvaccinated, increased from just 16 in the middle of May to 134 currently, the Associated Press reported. COVID-19 infections in the U.S. tripled over the last two weeks, adding additional stress onto hospitals.

Chad Neilsen, director of infection prevention at UF Health Jacksonville, said the hospital staff are "frustrated."

"They are tired. They are thinking this is déjà vu all over again, and there is some anger because we know that this is a largely preventable situation, and people are not taking advantage of the vaccine," Neilsen said.

Health officials have attributed the surge in U.S. cases to the Delta variant of the virus and vaccine hesitancy, the Associated Press reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that just 56.2 percent of Americans have received at least one vaccine dose.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Miami International Airport Vaccination Site
The COVID-19 vaccine was available at the Miami International Airport for travelers, airport employees, and residents from May 10-14, June 1-4, and June 7. Gilmar Martiz, from Panama, gets a Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccination from a healthcare worker at the airport on May 10, 2021. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

"It is like seeing the car wreck before it happens," said Dr. James Williams, a clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at Texas Tech, who has recently started treating more COVID-19 patients. "None of us want to go through this again."

He said the patients are younger — many in their 20s, 30s and 40s — and overwhelmingly unvaccinated.

"People were just begging for this," he said of the vaccine. "And remarkably it was put together within a year, which is just astonishing. People don't even appreciate that. Within a year, we got a vaccine. And now they are thinking, 'Hmm, I don't know if I will get it.'"

As lead pastor of one of Missouri's largest churches, Jeremy Johnson has heard the reasons congregants don't want the COVID-19 vaccine. He wants them to know it's not only OK to get vaccinated, it's what the Bible urges.

"I think there is a big influence of fear," said Johnson, whose Springfield-based church also has a campus in Nixa and another about to open in Republic. "A fear of trusting something apart from scripture, a fear of trusting something apart from a political party they're more comfortable following. A fear of trusting in science. We hear that: 'I trust in God, not science.' But the truth is science and God are not something you have to choose between."

Now many churches in southwestern Missouri, like Johnson's Assembly of God-affiliated North Point Church, are hosting vaccination clinics. Meanwhile, about 200 church leaders have signed a statement urging Christians to get vaccinated, and on Wednesday announced a follow-up public service campaign.

Opposition to vaccination is especially strong among white evangelical Protestants, who make up more than one-third of Missouri's residents, according to a 2019 report by the Pew Research Center.

"We found that the faith community is very influential, very trusted, and to me that is one of the answers as to how you get your vaccination rates up," said Ken McClure, mayor of Springfield.

The two hospitals in his city are teeming with patients, reaching record and near-record pandemic highs. Steve Edwards, who is the CEO of CoxHealth in Springfield, tweeted that the hospital has brought in 175 traveling nurses and has 46 more scheduled to arrive by Monday.

"Grateful for the help," wrote Edwards, who previously tweeted that anyone spreading misinformation about the vaccine should "shut up."

In Louisiana, health officials reported 5,388 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday and said it's the third-highest daily count since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020. Hospitalizations for the disease rose to 844 statewide, up more than 600 since mid-June.

In New Orleans, officials weighed a possible revival of at least some of the mitigation efforts that had been eased as the disease was waning.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the city's top health official, Dr. Jennifer Avegno, were expected to make an announcement later Wednesday. On Tuesday, Cantrell spokesman Beau Tidwell said "all options are on the table."

Man Holds Vaccine Sign
Covid cases across America are rising in all 50 states as the Delta variant spreads with half the US population yet to be fully vaccinated. A seated man wearing a face mask holds a sign pointing to a mobile vaccination clinic on July 16, 2021, along Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images