DETROIT (AP) — Hospitals across the country are struggling to cope with burnout among doctors, nurses and other workers, already buffeted by a crush of patients from the ongoing surge of the COVID-19 delta variant and now bracing for the fallout of another highly transmissible mutation.
Ohio was the latest to call the National Guard in an effort to relieve overcrowded medical facilities. Experts warn Nebraska that the hospitals may have to reduce their care. Medical officials in Kansas and Missouri are delaying surgeries, turning away transfers and desperately trying to hire traveling nurses, as cases double and triple in an eerie reminder of last year’s holiday season.
“There is no medical school class that can prepare you for this level of death,” said Dr. Jacqueline Pflaum-Carlson, an emergency medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. “The hits just keep coming.”
The national seven-day average of COVID-19 hospital admissions was 60,000 by Wednesday, far off last winter’s peak but 50% higher than in early November, the government reported. Cold-weather areas are more affected by the situation, as people move in greater numbers and infections increase.
New York State reported on Friday that nearly 21,000 individuals had been tested for COVID-19. This is the highest number of people to have ever tested positive since testing became available widely. New York City’s rapid response was swift: The Rockettes Christmas Show was cancelled, while Broadway performances were canceled due to outbreaks of cast members.
“We are in a situation where we are now facing a very important delta surge and we are looking over our shoulder at an oncoming omicron surge,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe BidenThe two COVID-19 variations are referred to as “the other”.
Chief medical officer at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission in Kansas City, Missouri Dr. Lisa Hays stated that backups are common at the hospital’s emergency department.
“The beds are not the issue. It’s the nurses to staff the beds. … And it’s all created by rising COVID numbers and burnout,” Hays said. “Our nurses are burnt out.”
Experts believe that the majority of hospitalizations and cases are due to infection by the coronavirus in people who were not inoculated. According to the government 61% of the U.S. populationIs fully vaccinated.
Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer at University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, Kansas, said the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” continues to swamp the hospital and its workers.
“There’s no place to go. We are exhausted. We’re going to run out of travelers,” Stites said, referring to visiting health care workers, “and omicron is at our doorstep. This is a tornado warning to our community.”
Ohio’s National Guard deployment is one of the largest seen during the pandemic, with more than 1,000 members sent to beleaguered hospitals especially in the Akron, Canton and Cleveland areas.
On Friday, there were 4,723 coronavirus-infected people in California. This is a record number that was last reported about one year ago by Gov. Mike DeWine confirmed the news. He added that staff were sometimes taking very brief breaks to rest before they returned for the second shift.
Other health systems are performing better and are anxiously waiting for the arrival of the Omicron variant.
According to Nebraska officials, hospitals could have to temporarily suspend care to allow COVID-19-infected patients. While case numbers are down from the state’s pandemic peak, they could rebound rapidly, and bed availability remains tight because of patients with non-virus ailments.
“It may be likely that omicron will cause a giant surge, and honestly we can’t handle that right now,” said Dr. Angela Hewlett of Nebraska Medicine in Omaha.
At Los Angeles’ Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, just 17 coronavirus patients were being treated there Friday, a small fraction of the hospital’s worst stretch. Edgar Ramirez, a nurse manager, said that while his staff are exhausted and more ready for any wave to hit them, they’re also better equipped.
“The human factor of having that fear is always going to be there,” Ramirez said. “I tell our crew, ‘We have to talk through this. We have to express ourselves.’ Otherwise it’s going to tough.”
Linda Calderon (71) and Natalie Balli (71) were twins who originally had intended to have their vaccines but pushed it back until it was too late. Now they’re on oxygen in the same room at Providence Holy Cross, their beds separated by just a few feet.
“We kept saying, ‘we’ll do it tomorrow.’ But tomorrow never came,” Calderon said as she watched her sister struggle to breathe. “We really regret not getting the shots, because if we did, we wouldn’t be like this right now.”
Pflaum-Carlson, the doctor at Detroit’s Henry Ford Health, made a public plea for people to get the shots both for their benefit and for those toiling on the frontlines of care. Eighty percent of the roughly 500 COVID-19 patients at the system’s five hospitals were unvaccinated,
“Have a little grace and consideration in how devastating things are right now,” she said.
Reporting was done by Jae and Eugene Garcia from AP in Los Angeles, Heather Hollingsworth from Kansas City, Missouri and Andrew Welsh Huggins (Columbus, Ohio).