As it did early in the pandemic, Lakeland Regional Health is again reducing the number of visitors allowed at its hospital, citing an increase in local COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The new rules take effect Monday.

“For the safety of our patients, visitors, physicians and team members, we will once again significantly reduce visitation to our Medical Center,” President and CEO Danielle Drummond said in a news release. “With the number of cases of COVID-19 in Polk County at an all-time high, along with the high number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, it is necessary for us to limit visitors at this time. We are hopeful conditions improve soon so we can once again open our areas to more visitors.”

The new rules allow visitors for only the following patients:

  • Obstetric hospital patients: 1 visitor.
  • Pediatric, Children’s Emergency and NICU patients: Both parents/guardians.
  • End-of-life patients: Visitors with the approval of the nursing leader in charge of that unit.
  • Patients undergoing surgery: 2 visitors.
  • Emergency Department patients: 1 visitor.

“All other visitors are asked to refrain from entering the medical center,” the news release says. “Children ages 16 years and younger are not permitted in the hospital at this time, unless they are the patient.”

In the early stages of the pandemic last March, LRH limited visitation as it prepared portions of the hospital for an expected influx of COVID-19 patients.

The numbers of patients were lower than expected, but have increased over time, and the hospital is now reporting its highest number of COVID-19 patients ever — 219 as of Thursday.

Chart from the city of Lakeland’s COVID-19 dashboard.

At the time LRH first restricted visitors, Florida’s Department of Health reports listed two confirmed COVID-19 cases in Lakeland and 13 in all of Polk. The current figures stand at 14,987 cases in Lakeland and 44,698 countywide.

Lakeland Regional typically experiences its heavy patient loads in the winter months and this year is no exception. Hospital admissions are closer to official capacity numbers than at any time since the pandemic began, according to numbers the hospital reports to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, as seen in the chart below:

One difference this year is that COVID-19 patients typically stay in the hospital twice as long as other patients, Drummond told city commissioners on Monday when they requested updates from local health leaders.

Based on those updates, the city attorney has prepared a resolution urging Lakeland residents to follow COVID-19 safety precautions. Commissioners discussed the proposed resolution this morning and are expected to approve it on Tuesday.

Commissioners have repeatedly resisted the urgings by interim Commissioner Don Selvage to revive last summer’s mask mandates. Selvage this morning said the resolution “falls short of what we should be doing as leaders.”

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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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