The top executives at Lakeland Regional Health, the Watson Clinic and the Florida Department of Health’s Polk County office are scheduled to brief Lakeland city commissioners this morning on the current state of COVID-19 in Polk County.

Members of the public can watch the City Commission’s 9 a.m. virtual meeting online or on cable:  Spectrum Channel 643 or FiOS Channel 43.

Mayor Bill Mutz said commissioners are scheduled to hear from:

After hearing from the health experts, commissioners “will discuss options and considerations to raise increasing awareness and intentionality” about COVID-19 precautions, he said.

If commissioners want to enact any new ordinances or resolutions, those would need to be approved at a future meeting, so holding a special meeting today “allows that potential direction to get in process,” Mutz said.

At the commission’s regular meeting last Monday, interim Commissioner Don Selvage urged his fellow commissioners to push for a 100-day mask challenge. He stopped short of asking that masks be mandated in Lakeland, as they were for three months last summer, because Gov. Ron DeSantis has removed mask-enforcement powers from local government.

“I will not back off the point that as elected officials, we have a duty to do something here rather than watch these terrible statistics every day come at us,” Selvage said at that meeting.

Polk County has experienced a steady increase in numbers of new COVID-19 infections over the last month and a half; the county recorded more new infections last week than in any week since the pandemic began in March.

In addition, Lakeland Regional Health has treated increasingly more patients with COVID-19 over the last few weeks, rising from 108 on Dec. 21 to a record 215 on Thursday, the latest day available on a chart maintained by the city of Lakeland.

Daily numbers that the hospital reports to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration show that Lakeland Regional is closer to reaching capacity than at any time since the beginning of the pandemic last March. Hospital occupancy typically increases during the winter months, but caring for COVID-19 patients adds extra burdens.

Lakeland Regional has not seen a corresponding increase in intensive care beds. On Sunday morning, the hospital reported 72 ICU beds in use, a little higher than its normal capacity of 68, but well below its surge capacity of 118.

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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