Hospital Hits Highest Number of Covid Patients as Polk Infections Soar

The last full week of July closes out with Polk County reporting its highest-ever number of new COVID-19 cases and Lakeland Regional Health filling more beds with Covid patients than ever before.

Polk County recorded 4,100 new infections for the week of July 23-29, according to the Florida Department of Health’s weekly report, which was released this evening. The previous high was 3,579 for the week of Jan. 10-16 at the height of the post-holiday surge.

In all, 81,132 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Polk County, representing one out of every five residents, the Health Department reports.

View the full state report here or at the end of this article.

Lakeland Regional’s medical center was treating more than 210 Covid patients today, according to Timothy J. Boynton, the hospital’s chief communications officer. “Our previous high number was 180 in January of 2021,” he said.

On Thursday, the hospital reported it was treating 213 patients who had tested positive for COVID-19; 17 of those were in intensive care, and 11 were on ventilators.

Dr. Joy Jackson, director The head of the Florida Department of Health’s Polk office has estimated that 95% of hospitalized Covid patients here have not been vaccinated and says the vast majority of the local infections involve people between the ages of 25 and 49.

One more record: The proportion of new tests coming back positive this week was 22.3%; the previous high weekly average was 21.6% for July 5-11 last year, the start of last summer’s major spike.

Despite the rising numbers, local government officials say they have no leeway to enact enforcement measures because of an executive order issued by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in May forbidding local restrictions.

Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz often initiated City Commission discussions on Covid measures in spring 2020 as infections rose, but he said Thursday he has no plans to make any recommendations on COVID-19 when the commission meets Monday because of the state’s ban on local action.

Likewise, the Polk County Commission did not mention the virus when it met today, according to a tweet from Ledger reporter Dustin Wyatt.

In nearby Orange County, Mayor Jerry Demings this week declared a state of emergency and is requiring the wearing of masks in county buildings by employees and visitors. He said he believes his actions are legally defensible under legislation that went into effect July 1, setting up a likely showdown with the state.

“We will watch Orange County closely,” Mutz said, “as counties are likely the very smallest jurisdictional level possible to declare enforceable mandates.”

Asked what message he’d like to deliver to Lakeland residents and business owners, Mutz said, “As COVID cases rise dramatically among the unvaccinated, renewed steps to minimize the spread must reoccur.  Citizens can choose not to be vaccinated, but with that freedom comes the personal responsibility to protect others via enhanced protocols.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week updated its guidance on face coverings and now recommends that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas like Florida where transmission of the virus is high.

While the state of Florida isn’t requiring masks, some private businesses that had relaxed their rules are beginning to tighten them again.

Publix Super Markets said today that employees will be required to wear masks in stores starting Monday regardless of their vaccination status.

Polk numbers

Also from the state update for July 23-29:

  • Vaccinations: The 324,926 people in Polk County who have received at least one dose of vaccine represents 53% of the eligible population of teens and adults 12 or older, compared with a statewide proportion of 61%.
  • Newly vaccinated: Last week, 7,261 people in Polk received vaccines, far larger than the 4.340 the previous week.
  • Proportion: Polk reported 569.7 new cases per 100,000 residents last week, considerably higher than the state average of 502.7.