SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE, FLA. (WSVN) - Monday is the last day workers in the Jackson Health System have to receive at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or follow strict guidelines such as wearing an N-95 mask at all times.

The deadline comes as a small group of employees with Baptist Health, joined by others who said they’re speaking for the employees, gathered across from Baptist Hospital in Kendall to protest the healthcare provider’s Oct. 31 deadline to receive the vaccine.

7News cameras captured demonstrators holding up signs that reads “Stop the mandate,” “Stop medical tyranny” and “Mandates = communism.”

Speaking from inside her car, an intensive care unit nurse at the hospital said she couldn’t watch the protest unfold without saying something herself.

“This is ridiculous. This is a shame to our society, because I sit there and watch young people die every day ’cause they’re not vaccinated,” she said.

The protest comes after Baptist Health sent out an email to all of their 23,000 employees outlining a new policy that will require all employees to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31. The email was followed by a petition to make getting the vaccine optional.

Stephany Ferrer, who organized the demonstration and started the petition, said she is not a healthcare professional but a concerned citizen. She said friends of hers who work at the hospital are afraid to speak up.

“My message is let your employees have a choice. You praised them when we needed them, and now that this is in play, whether you get it or you don’t, they went from heroes to villains,” she said.

At Jackson Health locations, workers who don’t get fully vaccinated by Sept. 30 will also not be allowed to eat or drink inside any of their facilities, and any meeting they have to attend will have to be done virtually.

Statewide, COVID hospitalizations hit an all-time high in August.

There are now 17,253 people who have been hospitalized with the virus.

“Our ICU is now full of COVID. We have about 100 and plus patients in the ICU, very sick. Most of them continue to be 25 to 45,” said Dr. David De La Zerda, JMH ICU Medical Director and Pulmonologist.

Sergio Segarra, Chief Medical Officer for Baptist Health System, said the toll that the virus is taking inside their hospitals is unprecedented.

“It is, unfortunately, a lot of disease and a lot of death that has come to Baptist Hospital,” he said. “I brought with me a reminder of over 20 patients who died this week alone of COVID.”

Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale has resorted to using a refrigerated storage unit as a makeshift morgue.

The latest developments come as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine

“Now that it’s FDA-approved, that will open that door to enforce the vaccination here in Florida,” said De La Zerda.

Martha Baker, the president of the union representing 5,000 medical professionals at Jackson Health, said 79% of her member nurses are vaccinated.

Baker said the pandemic has put them all through 18 months of physical and emotional stress.

“Somewhere between 80% to 95% of patients coming into our hospital have never been vaccinated,” she said. “You don’t have to get FDA approval to know that most people who are getting sick these days by far are those who are not vaccinated.”

Over the weekend, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis encouraged an immune system boost called monoclonal antibody treatment.

“Regeneron is the one monoclonal that has shown to be effective against the Delta variant,” he said.

Doctors said there is a short window of time when it is most effective, which is after testing positive and before symptoms grow severe.

The treatment is available for children as young as 12.

The Baptist Hospital ICU nurse who spoke with 7News also had some words for the protesters.

“You don’t know what it’s like in there watching young people die. It’s your civil duty for humanity!” she shouted at demonstrators.

The protesters were asked to leave once they marched onto hospital property.

Meanwhile, numbers from the Department of Health and Human Services show a drop of 25% in administered COVID tests while cases and hospitalizations continue to increase. Deaths have also more than doubled.

“It’s really hard to see people die and to see families die, because we’ve had husbands and wives and parents and kids that have come in here,” Janet Trumper-Whitney of Memorial Hospital Pembroke said. “It’s really overwhelming emotionally, and I wish people would just get vaccinated.”

“You choose not to get vaccine, you choose to maybe go to the ICU,” said De La Zerda. “Around 50% are dying, and this is what we’re seeing with the Delta variant: the mortality is much higher than in previous times, and I cannot fully explain why, but that’s what we’re seeing now.”

The petition being circulated by Baptist Health employees had nearly 9,000 signatures as of Monday night.

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