Florida Hospitals Worry About Shortages, Overload, But COVID Deaths Lowest Since Early 2020

More than 40 Florida hospitals face staff shortages as the Omicron variant continues to fuel infections and hospitalizations.

Despite doctors and nurses being fully vaccinated, a growing number of medical staff continues to test positive with the COVID-19 virus. Hospital groups say there are growing concerns medical professionals will need to be isolated and off duty because of the increased positivity rate.

Staffing shortages at Florida hospitals even forced the shutdown of a department at Holy Cross Health in Broward County when the hospital elected to close their maternity ward earlier in the week, placing the Labor and Delivery unit on diversion status. The hospital did keep its NICU and postpartum units open.

Additionally, the Cleveland Clinic announced it would postpone all non-urgent surgeries that require an overnight stay at its Florida hospitals through Jan. 21 to help make room for patients and alleviate pressure on the medical team.

This current case surge is the highest in Florida since the 2021 late-summer months when there were more than 1,550 deaths in a single day.

But despite staff shortages and the spread of the Omicron variant, deaths in the state have continued to decline to their lowest levels since March 2020.

According to Justin Senior, the CEO of Florida Safety Net Hospital Alliance, which represents some of Florida's largest hospitals, more medical professionals are testing positive for the Omicron variant, causing a staff shortage because of necessary isolation.

Senior also said it is difficult to manage the roughly 50 percent of patients who first arrived at a hospital with other ailments or for different procedures but later test positive for the COVID-19 virus.

"They are really labor-intensive. To prevent further infections, they tend to be an immense amount of work that is very tedious," Senior said.

Florida Staff Shortage COVID
Florida hospitals face staffing shortage as the Omicron variant continues to spread. In this photo, a medical worker tends to a patient who has Covid-19 in a negative pressure room in the ICU ward at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Massachusetts on January 4, 2022. Joseph Prezioso/Getty Images

The Omicron variant spreads even more quickly than other coronavirus strains. The variant also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus. However, early studies show omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant, and the vaccination and a booster still offer strong protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death.

According to federal government data, hospitalizations rose from about 5,000 COVID patients to about 8,500 over the past week. CDC data shows that cases in the state have continued to rise, reaching an average of 56,759 daily cases on Thursday.

Florida's seven-day death average is currently at its lowest level since March 2020, with four deaths per day.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.