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Can Tampa Bay area hospitals handle rising COVID-19 case numbers?

As the number of COVID-19 cases spike after holiday travel, hospitals are preparing to admit more critical patients.

TAMPA, Fla. — About 50 million people traveled for the Thanksgiving holiday and as doctors warned, we're starting to see an increase in coronavirus cases.

Are hospitals in the Tampa Bay area ready? AdventHealth Tampa says it bought an extra freezer to store one of the new COVID-19 vaccines, which requires storage at subzero temperatures. They're also making their own dry ice to safely transport the vaccine to clinics and hospitals in their network.

Other hospitals in Florida already have some of the vaccine storage capability. Hospitals in the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, like Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, the Sarasota Memorial Health Care System and Tampa General already have freezers needed to store the vaccine.

Justin Senior, the CEO of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida says Tampa Bay's medical centers are in good shape to handle a surge in COVID-19 cases.

 "We are in a significantly better position than we were back in spring or even summer. The main difference from spring is that there is no supply chain issues. They have personal protective equipment they need, 15 or 30 day supplies on hand, ready to go." 

Senior also says that Florida has gotten a new shipment of other drugs being used to treat people infected with the virus, like Remdesivir. 

Florida has seen a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 patients critical enough to need hospital care. SNHAF says within the last week, more than 600 patients have been admitted to hospitals.

RELATED: Florida coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, deaths and recoveries

In the Tampa Bay area, there are currently around 2,900 available staffed beds in hospitals, according to the Agency for Healthcare Administration's hospital bed capacity dashboard.

Having open beds available isn't the concern says Senior. It's having enough staff to care for patients. 

"While hospitals are in the business of virus control and there wasn't much spread in the hospital, people go home. They go to Publix and they catch it there and they come back and get tested and that knocks a lot of staff offline," said Senior. 

Hospital staff are already exhausted from months of treating patients during the pandemic, working through supply shortages and rapidly changing information about COVID-19.

RELATED: Florida becomes third state to surpass 1 million COVID-19 cases

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