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'It's frustrating': Polk County health leaders seeing record number of COVID hospitalizations

If there's one thing health leaders on Thursday wanted people to understand, it is that vaccines work and are saving lives.

POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Health care workers in Polk County are expressing their frustration with the recent spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations across the region.

"Over the last several weeks, things have taken a drastic turn for the worse," Danielle Drummond, President and CEO of Lakeland Regional Health Sytem said. 

She, along with several other health leaders, held a news conference on Thursday to discuss the impact the new wave of cases is having on the hospital system.

As of Thursday, 275 patients are currently hospitalized for COVID-19 at Lakeland Regional Medical Center, Drummond said. That's nearly 100 more patients than the hospital treated at the peak of the pandemic, according to Drummond.

RELATED: Florida reports new hospitalization high as daily cases surpass 20K

The reason, health leaders say, is the more infectious version of COVID-19, the delta variant, is taking hold as the primary variant this time around. Polk County has seen its case count double every 8 to 9 days. The county reported 989 cases on Wednesday, the most since the pandemic began, county health officials say.

The other reason is how few people have received the COVID vaccine. If there's one thing health leaders on Thursday wanted people to understand, it is that the vaccines work and are saving lives.

Recent hospitalizations in Polk County, they say, have skewed younger and unvaccinated.

"It's disheartening, it's frustrating that there's distrust in the scientific community that these vaccines are effective," Chief Medical Officer for Lakeland Regional Health Dr. Timothy Regan said. "People are focusing more on one-off stories on social media or things their neighbors are telling them, and paying less attention to the actual scientific data and the fact that there have been billions and billions and billions of doses of vaccine administered to people."

Regan also addressed fears over breakthrough cases - instances when fully vaccinated people still contract COVID-19. To that, he says there are always breakthrough cases with vaccines.

"The idea is you don't get hospitalized, or you don't die from the disease," Regan said. 

RELATED: How effective is your vaccine against the delta variant?

He thanked those who have been vaccinated, saying they represent the "vast minority of people who care." For those unvaccinated, Regan said "good luck."

"You will most likely get infected in the next two months," Regan said. "We are not fear mongers. We're not trying to scare you. But, here's reality - and this is what is sad. We are bringing 8 and 10-year-olds to the bedside of their parents to say their last goodbyes. People who we've extended treatment and we just can't save them."

On the same day Polk County health leaders spoke, Florida reported its total hospitalizations with confirmed cases of COVID-19 climbed to a pandemic high of 12,516 patients. 

Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show the state has about 84 percent of its inpatients beds in use. Of those, about 22 percent of the inpatient beds and 40 percent of the ICU beds were being occupied by COVID patients, specifically.

Visit the Florida Department of Health's website to find a vaccine location near you.