By Jessica Vallejo

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – In Florida, where more than 20,000 people a day on average are testing positive for the COVID-19 virus, there are alarming new statistics from the Florida Hospital Association. The group says three out of four hospitals are expecting staff shortages within one week.

Right now, only 8 percent of ICU beds are available in the state, and more than 17-thousand people are being treated for COVID-19 at our hospitals. At the center of this new surge, healthcare workers, who are once again dealing with physical and mental exhaustion.

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“The fact that some of these people cannot hold their loved one’s hands is heartbreaking,” said an emotional nurse, asking people to get a COVID–19 vaccine as the Delta variant continues to surge across South Florida.

“It is scary to see someone my age in here with breathing tubes and lines everywhere you can think of. Just recently we had a young woman, pregnant,” she added.

Friday, Florida surpassed 3 million COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

The state’s Health Department reported 1,486 new deaths in a week and hospitalization rates are rising.

16,849 people were reported in hospitals with COVID-19 on Friday with 3,500 of them in intensive care.  That is close to 1,000 new cases within a week.

Dr. Meera Nasir said the majority are in their 20s and 30s, including pregnant women. 95 percent of them unvaccinated.

“It has been stressful. It is disheartening. Everyone, do it for yourselves and your loved ones, go out and get vaccinated. Really this is the open weapon we have right now,” said Dr. Meera Nasir, an OBGYN medical director at South Miami Hospital.

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Mary Mayhew, President and CEO of Florida Hospital Association, said three out of four Florida hospitals expect to face critical staff shortages in the next 7 days.

“They are bringing staff in from other states. They are using contracted staffing. Some hospitals had to convert auditoriums, cafeterias to meet patient demand.”

And the hospitals are not just filled with COVID patients.

“We have a much higher volume of critically ill, non-COVID patients. We have a severe staffing shortage. That Florida is not unique. There is a workforce shortage around the country. But it is the combination of those factors that is stretching the system, straining the system. And of course, at the end of the day, we have healthcare front-line heroes who have been responding to this pandemic now for over 18 months. So, the physical and mental health exhaustion and now, of course, the trauma of what they are seeing especially with these younger individuals who are ending up acutely ill in the hospital,” said Mayhew.

CBS4 reached out to local hospitals to ask about the staff shortage.

The Baptist Health System said, “We have engaged approximately 250 crisis staff across our entities over the last two weeks.”

No other South Florida hospitals responded to our request for information.

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Preventative vaccinations are the most effective means to combat COVID-19 infections, and the US Food and Drug Administration will likely approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine around the end of August, former FDA Commissioner Dr. Mark McClellan said Thursday. Current vaccines have been granted emergency use authorization.

Jessica Vallejo