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Lakeland hospitals prepare for possible COVID-19 surge, vaccination distribution

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – As COVID-19 cases tick up, Polk County hospitals are bracing for the possibility of a surge similar to what other states and countries are facing.

Florida posted 5,600 new COVID-19 cases on Friday. This is an increase after two weeks with an average of 3,600 new cases a day.

“Since the first surge, we never let our guards down,” said Dr. Francisco Chebly, associate chief medical officer at Lakeland Regional Health.

Lakeland Regional Health has added 200 additional nurses, more than its usual increase for flu season.

“My main concern is basically the fact that people are kind of a little bit nonchalant about the use of the masks,” said Dr. Chebly.

The hospital has access to six COVID-19 testing platforms, which offer different durations for results for its patients.

Surgical patients are all tested.

Dr. Chebly said Lakeland Regional Health has not seen an increase in hospitalizations since the first surge in July.

It’s the same situation at Watson Clinic in Lakeland, though medical experts are watching the case number increase closely.

“This slight increase in cases that we’re seeing might be the early sign because all of these surges do start with a relatively modest case increase that you wouldn’t notice unless you were looking closely at the data,” said Dr. Steven Achinger, Managing Partner & Chairman of the Board, at Watson Clinic.

With an eye to the future, Watson Clinic and Lakeland Regional Health are teaming up for a coronavirus-related blood clot trial.

They also believe their facilities will play major roles in COVID-19 vaccine distribution in the future.

“I think for two reasons. First of all because of our size and second of all because of our location,” said Dr. Chebly, of Lakeland Regional Health. “We’ve been in the county for a long, long time and I think we have the infrastructure and the manpower to be able to provide that.”

Lakeland Regional Health has purchased ultracold freezers to store 10,000 doses of the vaccine.

“One of the vaccines that the state or I’d say the government decided to use was the one that requires an ultra cold refrigerator. It has to be minus 95 degree Fahrenheit,” said Dr. Chebly.

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