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Exclusive tour of COVID-19 floor at AdventHealth Tampa reveals two worlds; hope and despair

TAMPA, Fla. — The COVID-19 floor at AdventHealth Tampa looks the same as any other floor in the hospital. The difference in this unit is that the reality of COVID-19 and how deadly it is all around you.

Room after room filled with patients struggling for a single breath and fighting to survive.

The four walls surround them their entire world. The hospital staff their only saviors. Touring the 4th floor COVID-19 unit is a grim reminder that coronavirus is around us. That realization is even more apparent in this part of the hospital.

The wing is a bubble within a bubble. All of the rooms are negative pressure, meaning when doctors and nurses go inside with full personal protective equipment, but the air does not escape. When you open the door, the virus is pushed towards the patient. A door and a thin pane of glass are the only barrier between staff and the deadly pathogen stalking our society.

Out in public, you don’t know where the virus is lurking. Walking into a room with a COVID-19 patient is an entirely different experience. The virus is in the air, on the walls, in the sheets and on the floor.

It is everywhere.

4TH FLOOR COVID UNIT

ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska got an exclusive tour of the COVID-19 unit at AdventHealth Tampa. With a media escort, Paluska was allowed on the floor for 20 minutes to minimize potential virus exposure. The way the negative pressure rooms are set up, anyone in the hall was only required to wear a surgical mask, not a fitted N-95. We wanted to make sure we didn’t take any PPE away from healthcare professionals treating patients.

We also did not go into any of the negative pressure rooms where patients were getting treatment. Paluska shot video through the windows that look in on the patient. Just to be safe, we were told try not to touch anything, even in the halls outside patient rooms.

“Sometimes, there was a fear I would catch COVID. I would get sick. I would go home. I stay asymptomatic, and I pass it onto my family members, you know, so there were all sorts of the unknown we were dealing with,” Dr. Salman Ahmed with AdventHealth Tampa said.

For nine weeks straight, Ahmed was one of the only doctors assigned to COVID-19 patients.

“As more and more research comes out, Remdesivir and convalescent plasma are the way to go,” Dr. Ahmed said. “Since we started using Remdesivir, and since we started using the convalescent plasma, we have been able to reduce the number of days patients are spending on the ventilators. Some of our patients are coming off the ventilators in 1 to 2 days after receiving Remdesivir and convalescent plasma, so it is a blessing.”

SAVING LIVES

The question we wanted to answer was what treatments are working?

We sat down with Chief Medical Officer for AdventHealht Tampa Dr. Doug Ross.

“The use of Remdesivir, convalescent plasma, steroids just simple dexamethasone, as well as some anti-coagulation techniques,” Dr. Ross said. “There’s a bunch of studies for Remdesivir, for example, so low flow oxygen requiring patients it seems that they act best or they respond best to Remdesivir. So, it’s a little bit earlier on in the disease progression you give Remdesivir. The dexamethasone (steroid) is used when you are starting to require oxygen, decreasing the inflammation. Convalescent plasma we usually tend to use a little later in the treatment course if the patient is getting worse with the treatment of Remdesivir and dexamethasone.”

Because of limited supply, doctors have to pick and choose what medicine each patient will receive.

“We have seen a decrease in the mortality rate,” Dr. Ross said. “Still, there are people dying of COVID. There are more successes there’s no doubt about it, and we celebrate that every day as we discharge these patients to home.”

This summer, Florida has recorded some of the highest numbers of positive cases and recorded daily deaths anywhere in the world. Despite those grim statistics, Dr. Ross said the hospital is prepared for an influx of patients.

“Even with the uptick of cases we’ve seen in our area, you guys are still not overwhelmed?” ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska asked.

“Correct, we are not overwhelmed,” Dr. Ross said. “I don’t want anyone else to get COVID, but we are not overwhelmed.”

The state updates the number of available hospital beds daily. For now, the combination of various treatments currently available is keeping the capacity for beds manageable.

“As more and more research comes out, Remdesivir and convalescent plasma are the way to go,” Dr. Ahmed said. “Since we started using Remdesivir, and since we started using the convalescent plasma, we have been able to reduce the number of days patients are spending on the ventilators. Some of our patients are coming off the ventilators in 1 to 2 days after receiving Remdesivir and convalescent plasma, so it is a blessing.”

Dr. Ahmed said that doesn’t mean people in public should stop wearing masks.

“If you don’t like wearing the mask, you definitely are not going to like the endotracheal tube in your throat when you are not able to breathe. So, my message is, please wear the mask. Please wash your hands. And in the end, the most important thing is pray to God that we get rid of this menace because we don’t know how long it will take to go away.”

The virus does not discriminate. Initially, reports were that it mainly impacted the elderly. But that isn’t always the case.

“We have young patients who are getting very very sick and going on ventilators. On the other hand, we have elderly patients who are walking out of the hospital after being treated with COVID, so there is still a lot of unknowns about this disease,” Dr. Ahmed said.

DEATH RATE

On Tuesday, Florida set a new record for the most coronavirus deaths announced in a day with 277.

The previous high was 257 deaths on July 31, according to the health department.

“We are not out of the woods of the pandemic. In order to control the spread of it, masks need to be worn,” Dr. Ross said. “We are curing people, there is no doubt about it. We are decreasing the speed at which it takes for them to get cured, which is great. We are avoiding patients from getting on the ventilator more than before.”

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

Even with hundreds of thousands of people dying around the world. There are glimmers of hope. Every single day doctors and nurses learn a new way to save a life. Researchers find new drugs to help combat the disease. And AdventHealth Tampa continues to celebrate every patient that gets to go home.

“I’m optimistic we will be able to overcome this and move past this. It is just going to take some time. Yes, we still need to flatten that curve,” Dr. Ross said.

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