Sacred Heart hospital sets up outdoor tents to keep mild COVID cases out of emergency room

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

MIRAMAR BEACH — Amid a surge in COVID-19 patients across Northwest Florida, Ascension Sacred Heart Emerald Coast hospital in Walton County has set up a system designed to keep people with mild symptoms of the coronavirus out of its emergency room waiting area and treatment areas during busy times.

The hospital has set up an air-conditioned tent immediately outside the entrance to its emergency room "as part of our larger hospital plan to respond to the ongoing influx of patients who have COVID-19," said Mike Burke, marketing and communications manager for Ascension Sacred Heart medical facilities in Northwest Florida.

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"The process is that patients go into the ER for an initial triage assessment, as is typically done," Burke wrote in an email to the Daily News, "and then patients who are not suffering from serious symptoms are taken to the air-conditioned tent for further assessment, diagnosis and treatment."

According to Burke, "Some COVID-19 patients coming to the ER are not severely ill and may be able to go home without staying in an ER bed or being admitted to a hospital bed."

As of late Monday afternoon, the influx of COVID-19 patients at Sacred Heart Emerald Coast has not overwhelmed the facility, and people coming to the hospital are not being sent to other medical care facilities, Burke said.

This air-conditioned tent outside the emergency entrance at Ascension Sacred Heart Emerald Coast hospital in Miramar Beach is being used to screen coronavirus patients to help determine who can safely be sent home rather than be admitted to the emergency room or a hospital bed.

"Our Emerald Coast hospital is very busy but still fully capable of caring for patients," he said.

According to Burke, all hospitals in Northwest Florida are seeing a rapid surge of COVID patients.

And, he added, "most of those patients have not been vaccinated."

In a follow-up email to the Daily News on Tuesday morning, Burke encouraged the community to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and also to follow federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on wearing masks in indoor spaces as measures against the spread of the coronavirus.

According to data tracking being done by The New York Times — compiling statistics from state governments, state and local health agencies, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — 34% of people in Walton County who are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine have been vaccinated.

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The number is slightly higher for people in Walton County who are 18 years of age and older, at 42%, and is at 70% among residents who are 70 years of age or older.

According to the CDC, 25,164 people in Walton County are fully vaccinated and 31,221 people have received at least one dose of a two-dose vaccine.

According to the New York Times data, the daily average of new coronavirus cases reported in Walton County stood at 68 as of Monday. That's up from the previous week, when the seven-day average stood at 47 new cases each day. That number is, in turn, up from the last full week of July, in which the seven-day average of new coronavirus cases was 25 new cases per day. As recently as the first week of July, the seven-day average in Walton County was four new cases each day.

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Local officials have been working in recent days to provide people with information about the coronavirus, particularly the new Delta variant, and about coronavirus vaccines.

On its Facebook page earlier this week, Walton County Emergency Management was gently urging people to get vaccinated, posting, "To vaccine or not vaccine? Only YOU can make this choice, based off individual research and an understanding of your personal health history. However, scientifically speaking, the vaccines are safe and effective. ... "