Like previous COVID-19 surges, this one has affected Boca Raton Regional Hospital, but the effects are different.
During an interview Monday, Chief Medical Officer Samer Fahmy said Boca Regional last week had 120 COVID-19 patients, 95 percent of them with the very transmissible Omicron variant. That’s slightly fewer patients than the hospital had in July with the summer surge and in October.
The difference this time, Fahmy said, is that fewer patients are in the intensive care unit. Vaccinated patients with breakthrough cases are less sick. Those needing intensive care “are mostly unvaccinated. Booster shots are helping this time around” by making breakthrough cases much milder. “That aspect is encouraging.”
But some vaccinated patients who are more than 80 years old “and especially over 90” are at risk because they have “quite a few [morbidities],” Fahmy said, such as heart disease and diabetes. Risk also is high for the immunocompromised, which is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended a fourth shot for those individuals.
As for symptoms, Fahmy said fewer patients are having serious lung problems with Omicron, in keeping with reports from other states. In July, Fahmy recalled, “We had a serious issue with oxygen delivery.”
This time, patients are more likely to be seriously “debilitated.” They are “confused and fatigued.” Even if they don’t require a ventilator, cases can persist for three weeks.
Interestingly, Fahmy said that roughly 30 percent of COVID patients “were admitted for a different reason.” That “sheer volume” of patients in a hospital with 340 beds still takes up lots of space. Boca Regional was so full that it had to cancel all elective surgeries that required an overnight stay. With the numbers lower, those procedures have resumed.
This week, Gov. DeSantis criticized President Biden because the Food and Drug Administration removed Regeneron—the monoclonal antibody treatment that the governor has touted over vaccines—from its list of accepted COVID-19 therapies. It is the latest fight the governor has picked with Biden over the pandemic.
While noting that he “didn’t hear those comments from the governor,” Fahmy said Boca Regional no longer uses Regeneron because it has “limited or no efficacy” against the Omicron variant. It also can cause side effects. Other treatments remain available, though they are in short supply.
Fahmy also stressed that even vaccinated South Floridians should continue to wear masks in crowded indoor locations. He rebutted claims that masks are ineffective. While acknowledging that they won’t prevent all infections, Famhy said, “There is clear evidence that they help prevent transmission.”
COVID-19 cases are falling, but deaths—the last indicator—are rising. “We’ve seen this before,” Fahmy said. Still, fewer Boca Regional employees are out because they contracted the virus or were exposed. Staffing issues “have eased up.” We may be on the back side of this surge.
What can the public do? “Be conscious,” Fahmy said, meaning not to assume that things are normal. He urged people not to visit Boca Regional for a COVID-19 test, even if lines are long at public test sites.
And wear a mask. “It’s such a harmless intervention.”
Parking debate riles up the CRA
Here’s more on the testy exchange about automated parking at Monday’s Boca Raton Community Redevelopment Agency meeting. Though the dustup was mild compared to some of the verbal brawls during Delray Beach City Commission meetings, it was extraordinary by Boca Raton standards.
To review: Mayotte is sponsoring an amendment to allow mechanical parking downtown. The city council, acting as the CRA, had been scheduled to discuss the proposed ordinance on Monday and then vote on it a day later.
But Mayotte, who runs the CRA meetings, complained about an email from City Manager Leif Ahnell that council members saw Friday afternoon. It came in response to a question from Mayor Scott Singer. It contained several staff comments about the parking ordinance.
Mayotte seemed to interpret the memo as an attempt to defeat the ordinance. She all but accused Ahnell of incompetence or worse. He got frosty.
So what’s up?
“I was a bit angry,” Mayotte understated on Tuesday. “I thought staff had dropped the ball. I wanted to get the city out ahead on this issue.”
But this proposal has a backstory. Mayotte acknowledged that it comes from Adam Beighley, a land-use lawyer. She acknowledged that Beighley, who has helped Mayotte with her campaigns, “has some skin in the game” when it comes to the mixed-use Aletto Square project.
It is proposed for a site south of Mizner Park and east of Sanborn Square. According to the Development Services Department, the project calls for a 357-space “automated parking structure” that current rules don’t allow. That makes Mayotte’s amendment seem less about getting the city ahead on an issue and more about helping a developer.
Other council members didn’t share Mayotte’s interpretation of the Ahnell memo. Singer said he simply wanted guidance from the staff to help the discussion. Andy Thomson said he didn’t think the memo sought to undercut the ordinance—only to offer ideas for improving it.
In the email, Ahnell said, “Our recommendation would be that the proposed ordinance be further amended to make clear that it only allows for the potential (emphasis mine) for mechanical and automated parking and that it does not create any rights (emphasis mine) to such parking.” In other words, don’t pass an ordinance for one project.
During Tuesday night’s regular council meeting, Mayotte said only that she would like the staff and those behind the amendment to discuss it. The proposal could come back to the council in two weeks.
Boca Brightline station finally breaks ground
Brightline broke ground Tuesday on its Boca Raton station, which the company expects to complete this fall. I asked Brightline about the station and the company’s plans.
As to when service in Boca Raton might begin, a spokeswoman said details would come after construction. She estimates that the station “will bring nearly 130,000 visitors annually to Boca Raton.”
I asked if Brightline is working with Boca Raton on a pedestrian bridge over the tracks. City council members have expressed interest in such a project.
The spokeswoman said, “Brightline is committed to working with the city to enhance connectivity for pedestrians and passengers looking to ride.” The company will offer its Brightline Plus service, through which passengers can order rides to and from their homes to the station.”
Finally, given the pandemic’s effect on office commuting, I wondered about Brightline’s business model. Only if ridership meets expectations will the station be a “game-changer” for Boca Raton, as Singer said this week.
“Brightline’s ultimate business model,” the spokeswoman said, “is to connect city pairs [like Orlando and West Palm Beach—Ed.] that are too short to fly and too far to drive. Our complete system to Orlando will be complete at the end of 2022 and will serve both business and leisure travelers.
“There are over 130 million travelers to the state and more than 30 million trips a year between south and central Florida for business and leisure. We offer a safer alternative and a better experience than driving or flying.”
Gretsas/Delray lawsuit could be delayed
Delray Beach wants more time to file the city’s response to the lawsuit by former City Manager George Gretsas.
The response was due on Monday. The city’s attorney wants an extension until Feb. 14. “The requested extension of time,” the motion says, “is being sought in good faith and not for purposes of delay.” Gretsas alleges that he was fired without cause and should get 20 weeks severance.