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Miami Hospital ICU Doctor: New Influx Of Patients Is Younger Than Before

Florida has reported big jumps in hospitalizations for COVID-19. An ICU doctor at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami says he's seeing more young people than before.
Wilfredo Lee
Florida has reported big jumps in hospitalizations for COVID-19. An ICU doctor at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami says he's seeing more young people than before.

Florida is breaking records in its explosion of coronavirus cases. On Sunday, the state reported 15,299 new resident cases from the day before, a jump larger than any seen before in a single U.S. state.

Dozens of hospitals are at the limit of their intensive care unit capacity, according to Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration.

And one Miami doctor is particularly worried about the type of people he's now seeing lots of in the ICU: young people with no medical history.

Dr. David J. De La Zerda, the director of medical ICU at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, says his major concern is the change in patients — and the severity of their cases.

De La Zerda tells All Things Considered's Ailsa Chang about what he's seeing in the ICU as the coronavirus continues spreading in Florida. Here are excerpts:

These patients that you're seeing in the ICU today, are you noticing any differences from the COVID-19 patients you were seeing just two months ago?

Yes, they're younger patients. [Their] age, last time, was probably around 65. Now, our average age is between 25 to 35, 45 years old.

That's one big change. Much younger patients, pretty much healthy. Not really major past medical history.

We are not seeing that much obesity. I know there are some reports about obesity, but at least in the ICU, I would guess maybe 20% of patients are obese. Most of them are pretty young and healthy patients.

And also they get sicker than the previous [wave]. Mortality has not been a major issue because they are younger patients. But I think as the days go on, we might also see a change in mortality.

Can you describe what "sicker," when it comes to the coronavirus, looks like?

The delivery of oxygen is much higher, that's one. Second is the blood pressure has been low. So we have to use a lot of medications to actually bring the blood pressure to a normal level. So it's one, the use of medications to keep the blood pressure high, and second, the amount of oxygen these patients are required, which is more than last time.

Can you talk about how the last several months have been for you personally as an ICU doctor?

The last months are really tough for all the health workers here. ... It's a big toll to our families. I don't get to see my kids that often. And also our nurses. So the burnout that we see in our ICUs is really high. ...

Also we would like to see more community support, in the sense like when you go out, people being wearing masks and so forth. And sometimes you don't see this here in Miami unfortunately. So it's also the frustration of seeing the community [not] doing their part.

NPR's Apoorva Mittal and Christopher Intagliata produced and edited the audio interview.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for NPR.org and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.