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Increase in COVID hospitalizations causing a higher demand for medical oxygen

Hospital officials say lack of access to truck drivers is also causing issues with delivery.

TAMPA, Fla. — We all know COVID-19 affects the lungs. That’s not exactly breaking news.

But with infections surging in Florida thanks to the delta variant, that’s why we’re seeing a big increase in demand for medical oxygen.

“We’re all praying we don’t run out,” explains Dr. Charlie Sand, the chair of Hillsborough County’s Emergency Medical Planning Council.

“When you get bad COVID in the lung, you need high-flow oxygen – or worse, a tube down your throat, intubated. So, those people have to be on oxygen.”

So we have higher demand for medical oxygen, but that's not the only issue. Florida Hospital Association’s president and CEO tells us there aren’t enough drivers to transport all that oxygen.

“Our understanding with oxygen companies is the lack of access to drivers. And these are not just any drivers. This is medical oxygen. These drivers have to be HAZMAT certified commercial drivers. It is a dangerous supply that they are transporting,” Mary Mayhew explained to Jenna Bourne.

According to the Hillsborough County Hospital Status Dashboard, the AdventHealth Brandon freestanding emergency room had “no house oxygen” on Aug. 4.

When we asked AdventHealth’s spokesperson about that, she said in an email, “The freestanding, offsite emergency department went on bypass to allow time for an additional oxygen supply to arrive. There was no disruption to patient care.”

Bypass is when an ER asks ambulances to take patients somewhere else.

“I have certainly spoken with at least 10 hospitals that have had some level of challenge, but there are many others that are certainly focused on this and are working to ensure that continuity of supply,” Mayhew said.

So what’s being done to prevent hospitals from running out of oxygen?

“We go into, just as we do any disaster, a mutual aid situation where areas that have plenty of oxygen will transport it here. So, let’s all pray that doesn’t happen. But if people don’t do their part, we’re going to get in that situation,” Sand said.

And the federal government is allowing flexibility in its regulations of commercial drivers who transport medical supplies for COVID-19.

“We certainly don’t want tired drivers behind the wheels of oxygen tanks. We understand the risk that is involved with that. But certainly, safely leveraging flexibilities to support timely delivery is everyone’s goal,” Mayhew explained.

The Compressed Gas Association says when it comes to supplying medical oxygen, they’re focusing on COVID-19 hotspots in the southeastern U.S., including Florida.

The CGA says its members are sourcing additional medical gas cylinders to store and transport medical oxygen and converting cylinders and containers to medical oxygen use.

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