JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida's hospitals rang in the new year with some of the same challenges in the fight against COVID-19 - treating more unvaccinated patients.
"I never miss an opportunity to discuss vaccination," explained Dr. Shalika Katugaha.
She is the System Director for Infectious Diseases at Baptist Health. She's seen an increase in the number of COVID positive cases, but isn't alarmed.
She expects numbers to peak this month, but warns in order for the state to see a downward trend, some of your old habits need to return.
"Make sure you upgrade your mask, social distance and avoid crowds where you don't know if people are vaccinated or unvaccinated and wash your hands," she said.
The Florida Hospital Association is tracking the number of COVID-19 patients in more than 200 hospitals.
Since December 27, that number has grown from 2,075 to 8,548. Deaths have also increased from 28 two weeks ago to 44 this week.
"The challenge is because this variant is so contagious, is spreading so rapidly, it appears to be affecting the vaccinated and the unvaccinated," said Mary Mayhew.
She is the Florida Hospital Association's president and CEO.
Mayhew says not only is caring for more patients creating strain on staff, but hospital employees are also testing positive and having to isolate.
Nurse Justin Adams is exhausted. "This has been super, emotionally and physically draining on us," he told First Coast News.
Hospitals are also encouraging those with mild or no COVID-19 symptoms to refrain from going to the emergency room for testing.
They suggest scheduling a test at a vaccination site. Those locations can be found here.