COVID Hospitalizations Strain FL Ambulances

Signage stands at the ready (foreground) in case COVID-19 testing at Barnett Park reaches capacity, as cars wait in line in Orlando, Fla., Thursday, July 29, 2021.
Signage stands at the ready (foreground) in case COVID-19 testing at Barnett Park reaches capacity, as cars wait in line in Orlando, Fla., Thursday, July 29, 2021. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. — COVID-19 cases have filled so many Florida hospital beds that ambulance services and fire departments are straining to respond to emergencies.

In St. Petersburg, some patients wait inside ambulances for up to an hour before hospitals can admit them — a process that usually takes about 15 minutes, Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said.

While ambulances sit outside emergency rooms, they are essentially off the grid.

“They’re not available to take another call, which forces the fire department on scene at an accident or something to take that transport. That’s caused quite a backlog for the system,” Burton said.

He stressed that the most serious cases, like heart attacks and strokes, still get prompt attention in emergency rooms. And he says the county is working with fire rescue officials to find more ambulances and have extra staff on hand.

The strain is being felt across Florida, where COVID-19 hospitalizations surpassed the pandemic’s worst previous surge in late July and set a new record of 13,600 on Monday, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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