The recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Polk County has filled intensive care beds at local hospitals nearly to capacity. Lakeland Regional Health has responded by opening more ICU beds beyond its normal count of 68.

As of this morning, the Agency for Health Care Administration shows just 11 out of 145 ICU beds available throughout Polk County, including zero available beds at Lakeland Regional Medical Center and Bartow Regional Medical Center.

The zero figure for Lakeland Regional Health is a misnomer because the hospital has a reserve of 50 “flex” beds for ICU patients that aren’t included in the count, hospital officials say.

All 68 regular ICU beds are filled, and Lakeland Regional’s medical center is using nine of its flex beds as of today’s count, for a total of 76 ICU beds in use.

The count was 81 on Thursday, when the hospital reported that 18 of the ICU beds were occupied by critical COVID patients and 19 patients who were awaiting COVID test results.

 “Utilizing additional ICU beds is not unusual, though it is uncommon for this time of year,” Lakeland Regional Health Analytics Officer Caroline Gay said in an email.

The volume of patients at the hospital lately has been more like a typical January than a typical July, she said, due in part to community spread of COVID-19.

“The pace and feeling at our medical center in the midst of these summer months are more like what we typically experience in the January timeframe, when the flu is approaching its peak in the community,” Gay added.

So far, LRH has not needed to use more than 86 total ICU beds during the pandemic. However, should they need more beyond 86 beds in the older portion of the hospital, LRH has a floor with 32 beds that can be used for intensive care at the newer Carol Jenkins Barnett Pavilion for Women and Children.

Polk County Health Department Director Joy Jackson briefed Lakeland city commissioners on the community response to COVID-19 last Thursday.

As of that morning, she said, Lakeland Regional Health had 92 patients with COVID-19. Among those in the ICU, 14 were on ventilators, she said.

“If you’re asking whether the numbers are increasing, the answer is yes. The comment (from Chief Operating Officer Danielle Drummond) is that they are managing,” she said. “I am fearful if we continue to have the uptick that we’re having that we will abut the ability of our hospitals to manage,” she said.

Addressing the surge in cases that began June 19, Jackson noted that 40% of the 4,000-plus people with known cases of COVID-19 in Polk County contracted it in the previous week. In Lakeland, one-third of the 1,300-plus cases were reported in the last week.

The next day, Lakeland set a new single-day record with 103 cases.

LkldNow tracked ICU bed availability in Polk County between Aug. 3 and June 9. During that period LRH exceeded its 68-bed count five times, all between May 21 and 26. The highest day was May 19, when 80 ICU beds were in use, one fewer than today’s count of 81.

Sunday’s countywide count of seven ICU beds available is lower than at any time while LkldNow was tracking it.

With the increasing demand for hospital beds in Polk, LkldNow will again begin tracking and charting the numbers reported daily to the Agency for Health Care Administration. The chart will be available starting later today on our COVID-19 page.

Here are the charts for April 3 to June 9:

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