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'It's a strain': Doctors ask community to buckle down, while COVID-19 patient intake surges

The White House Coronavirus Task Force warns the state will see a significant amount of deaths for weeks and stress on the hospital system, but we're already there.

TAMPA, Fla — Rising COVID-19 cases are causing hospitals across Florida to fill up and now doctors are asking the community to help stop the spread.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force warns the state will see a significant amount of deaths for weeks and stress on the hospital system, but we're already there.

"It's very hard for me a lot of times. Before the virus when you go to talk to patients and they ask me, 'Am I gonna get better?' A lot of times you want to be optimistic," Dr. Edgar Sanchez with Orlando Health said. 

But he says he can't predict how the virus will affect his patients. At his small hospital, at least one person dies from COVID-19 a week.

"More often than not I have to hold my tongue because even if they look really well when they come in, you just don't know which direction they will be will go," Sanchez said.

It's the same at Lakeland Regional Health in Polk County. Dr. Hal Escowitz says they're operating at 80-percent of their capacity. Over 200 individuals with COVID-19 are in hospital beds, some on ventilators.

"It's a strain personally, psychologically dealing with this every day and we have to constantly remind ourselves, why we're here. What we're seeing now is the community in the hospital and it's upsetting to see. It's certainly challenging to take care of," Escowitz said.

No matter the hospital system, doctors say anyone with COVID that ends up in the ICU has a 40-percent survival rate.

"It is shocking to me to see people die alone. Pre-pandemic, people would die with a loved one by their side," Dr. Manuel Gordillo with Sarasota Memorial Hospital said.

Gordillo diagnosed Florida's first case of coronavirus back in February at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Almost a year later, he's seeing more people come through the emergency room.

"The problem is that the public is also exhausted. They're tired. It is frustrating to us as health officials when we ask the community to help us with social measures," Gordillo said.

The holidays, a lack of social distancing and foregoing mask-wearing are causing cases to rise. It could push hospitals to their peak capacity. That's why the doctors are pleading with everyone to protect one another. 

"I understand everyone is kind of burnt out and there's a lot of mask fatigue and distancing fatigue. This has been going on for a very long time, but if people don't change their behaviors, if people aren't taking this seriously, then we'll continue to see cases go up," Escowitz said.

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