With COVID-19 expected to peak in Polk County in a week or two, Lakeland Regional Health has plenty of capacity to add more patients, Dr. Daniel Haight told a teleconference gathering of community leaders today.

Around 40 COVID-19 patients have been hospitalized at Lakeland Regional so far, and 15 are there now, said Haight, an infectious disease physician and vice president of community health for LRH, in a Zoom meeting with members of the Leadership Lakeland Alumni Association.

“We have under 600 patients in the hospital for all diagnoses with only 15 of those with a COVID diagnosis,” he said. “We have 40 to 50 people awaiting test results but the numbers are manageable.”

The hospital is licensed for 864 beds.

In all, about 30 of the hospital’s 80 ventilators were in use Tuesday to provide breathing assistance for critically ill patients, leaving capacity if more COVID-19 patients require care, he said.

Only three or four of the hospital’s 80 ventilators were in use by patients diagnosed with COVID-19, he said.

As of Tuesday evening, 279 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Polk County, with 86 of them requiring hospitalization. Polk recorded its 10th death from the disease today.

Seasonal influenza peaked in December and has virtually disappeared so people currently experiencing respiratory problems likely do not have the flu, Haight said.

On Monday, Lakeland Regional opened a temporary respiratory clinic at its Pablo Street campus, which is dedicated to treating minor, non-chronic respiratory issues, Height said. The clinic is just south of Southgate Plaza on South Florida Avenue near the intersection of Edgewood Drive.

The respiratory clinic is for anyone over the age of 2 who is having mild to moderate respiratory symptoms, such as cough and mild fever, he said. Anyone experiencing more serious symptoms, such as trouble breathing and chest pain, needs to go to the hospital’s emergency department.

The emergency department is set up so that those being treated for respiratory illnesses are separated from those who are coming for other issues, such as stroke, heart attack or trauma, he said.

While those who come to the Pablo respiratory clinic will be assessed, not everyone will be tested, Haight said.

Tests remain in short supply and so far the health system has tested about 1,500 people, approximately 1,000 of them at the hospital, he said.

Haight also explained the difference between quarantine and isolation.

“When we talk quarantine, the person is healthy but been exposed,” he said. After exposure, it may take five to eight days to become ill, he said. While people can shed the virus before getting sick themselves and spread the disease, “as they become ill they become even more contagious.”

While quarantine is for people who may have have been exposed to the virus but are not showing symptoms, isolation is for people who are sick” Haight said.

The health system has been operating since the beginning of the pandemic under a plan pulled together years ago to respond to newly emerging diseases, such as swine flu, SARS and now COVID-19, he said.

And, he said, the hospital’s incident command team has been operational, responding to daily concerns and the quickly changing news and rumors about the virus, he said.

“We have certainly struggled with a couple of issues,” he said, chief among them ensuring there are enough masks and the masks are working properly. While “we have had some shortages, we have been managing with the equipment so far.”

Haight thanked the community for donations of equipment.

As soon as Haight opened the session for questions, outsiders Zoom-bombed the meeting with screeches, other obnoxious noises and obscenities, bringing the teleconference to an abrupt halt.

Lana Swatzwelder president of the Leadership Lakeland Alumni Association, said that a password will be issued to members and their guests to prevent future teleconference sessions from being Zoom bombed.

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