ORLANDO, Fla. — AdventHealth elevated its COVID status to "black" Thursday night, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continued to rise throughout the hospitals Central Florida network.

What You Need To Know

  • AdventHealth has 1,000 COVID patients across its hospital network

  • Black status means non-emergency surgeries at the hospitals will be defered

  • AdventHealth says the status change allows them to secure future capacity needs

Black status means AdventHealth will defer all non-emergency surgeries at its hospitals. All hospital-based outpatient procedures will be deferred as well, and outpatient surgery sites will also only conduct time sensitive and urgent procedures.

In addition to that, time-sensitive pediatric procedures can be conducted with the approval of AdventHealth's chief medical officer.

Patients with any canceled procedures will be contacted, officials said.

Dr. Geoffrey Stewart is an independent orthopedic spine surgeon who's been practicing for 25 years. He said he does a lot of his surgeries at AdventHealth, but many of his patients do not qualify as an emergency procedure.

“There are going to be a dozen or two dozen that cannot have surgery in a timely manner because of the crisis,” said Stewart.

Stewart says it will impact a number surgeries planned over the next month.

“There are a lot patients who are in pain from pressure on their nerves that are getting no relief, and it's frustrating,” Stewart said.​

The health care system conducted a virtual news conference on Friday to emphasize the proactiveness of its elevated status, to ensure adequate space and staff and to be able to adjust if hospitalizations increase further. Officials also emphasized they have sufficient personal protection equipment and ventilators, of which they say they have ordered more.

Yet they also stressed the strain on their employees.

"I’m here today to tell you our nurses and physicians are exhausted. The physical, the mental and emotional strains of this pandemic are taking a toll," said Linnette Johnson, chief nursing officer for AdventHealth's Central Florida division. "We are asking you our community to help us … All health systems need to this pandemic to come to an end."

With more than 90% of the health system's COVID-19 patients unvaccinated, she said, "we’re on a quest to urge everyone to become vaccinated." Unvaccinated patients represent 99% of the hospital's COVID-related deaths, officials said.

The decision to elevate to black status happened after AdventHealth announced it had reached 1,000 patients with COVID throughout its network, exceeding numbers last seen in January 2021. Officials said that as of Friday morning, the health care system's Central Florida hospitals were treating 1,060 inpatients for COVID-19.

“What is extraordinary is the speed at which we are currently seeing new cases, and unfortunately the slope is steep and haven't seen the end,” Dr. Vincent Hsu, executive director at AdventHealth, said earlier.

Medical leaders also encourage everyone to wear a mask indoors in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Neil Finkler, chief medical officer for AdventHealth's Central Florida division, said in a reponse to a question at Friday's news conference: “I’m not a politician. I’m a clinician and a scientist. As a clinician and a scientist, it’s very obvious to me that people should be wearing masks right now, whether you’re vaccinated or not, in accordance with the CDC guidelines. Wearing the mask won’t hurt, but it may help stop the spread of virus.”

Asked if he was worried about unmasked kids in schools, which are preparing to reopen, he said: “Again I’m not a politician, but because most young people can’t get vaccinated, we recommend that kids wear masks in schools."

Finkler said the health care system uses positivity rates from its CentraCare walk-in clinics as predictors of COVID-19 cases.

"The good news is it appears that it may have been plateaued, and I underscore that may, but we continue to see increased numbers of admissions," Finkler said. Yet he added that "if this surge is consistent with previous surges, we think that we are probably are going to see increased admissions at least for the next week, if not two."

Enid Rosa tested positive for COVID-19 in February.

“I had horrible pain. I cannot explain the body aches, I was cold, I was hot,” she said.

Rosa said it got so bad she went to the hospital, was put on oxygen, and stayed there for eight days, losing more than 20 pounds.

Rosa shared her story so others understand what they may face if they contract COVID-19. She encourages everyone follow CDC guidelines.

AdventHealth's Hsu believes if people get vaccinated and follow CDC guidelines, we could see the number of new cases stabilize by mid-August.​