A different wave of COVID is seen in US hospitals this time

Hospitals in the United States are raging over the omicron variant and are in a mess that is different from previous outbreaks of COVID-19.

This time, they are facing a severe shortage of staff because so many healthcare workers are falling ill with the rapidly spreading option. Large numbers of people come to emergency departments hoping to be tested for COVID-19, which puts more strain on the system. And a surprising proportion of patients – two-thirds in some places – test positive for the virus while in hospital for other reasons.

At the same time, hospitals claim that patients are not as sick as those who came during the last wave. Intensive care units are less crowded and ventilators are no longer needed as they used to be.

However, pressure is forcing hospitals to cut non-emergency operations and close wards, while National Guard troops have been sent to several states to provide assistance at medical centers and training grounds.

Almost two years after the start of the pandemic, frustration and exhaustion are mounting among healthcare workers.

“It gets very exhausting, and I’m very polite when I talk about it,” said Dr. Robert Glasgow of Utah State Health University, which has hundreds of workers outside the hospital or isolated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 85,000 Americans are in hospital with COVID-19, just a short distance from the delta spike peak of about 94,000 in early September. The all-time high during the pandemic was around 125,000 in January last year.

But hospitalization figures don’t tell the whole story. At least some of the official cases are associated with mild infections or infections without symptoms that prevent patients from being admitted to the hospital in the first place.

Dr. Fritz François, department head at NYU Langone Health Hospital in New York, said about 65% of patients admitted to the system with COVID-19 were recently hospitalized for some other reason and had the virus accidentally.

Joan Spec, associate director of research at the University of California San Francisco Health Center, said the increase in such cases is both good and bad.

The absence of symptoms shows that vaccines, boosters and natural immunity from previous infections are working, she said. The bad news is that the numbers mean the coronavirus is spreading rapidly and a certain percentage of these people will eventually require hospitalization.

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36% of California hospitals reported critical staff shortages this week. And 40% expect such a shortage.

Some hospitals are reporting up to a quarter of their staff leaving for virus-related reasons, according to Kiyomi Burchill, the California Hospital Association’s vice president of policy and pandemic leader.

In response, hospitals turn to temporary recruitment agencies or move patients out.

The University of Utah Health plans to leave more than 50 beds open due to a shortage of nurses. It is also a change in the timing of transactions that are not urgent. In Florida, a hospital temporarily closed a maternity ward due to staff shortages.

As of Monday, there were just over 10,000 people in a New York State hospital with COVID-19, including 5,500 in New York City. That’s the high in a city or state since the disastrous spring of 2020.

However, New York City hospital officials said things weren’t dire. Typically, patients are not as sick as they were then. Of the patients hospitalized in New York City, about 600 were in intensive care beds, only slightly more than that day in intensive care units last winter.

“We’re not even halfway to what it was in April 2020,” said Dr. David Battinelli, chief physician at Northwell Health, New York State’s largest hospital system.

Amid a surge in demand for COVID-19 testing in the US fueled by omicron, the New York City Fire Department is asking people not to call an ambulance simply because they are having trouble finding a test.

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeVine announced the creation of new or expanded testing centers in nine cities to reroute test applicants from the ER. About 300 members of the National Guard are sent to help these centers.

In Connecticut, many ambulance patients are in overcrowded corridor beds and nurses often work double shifts due to staff shortages, said Sherri Dayton, a nurse at the Backus Plainfield Emergency Center. Many emergency departments require many hours of waiting, she said.

“We’re drowning. We’re exhausted, ”Dayton said.

Doctors and nurses complain of burnout and the feeling that their neighbors no longer view the pandemic as a crisis, despite COVID-19 cases being reported day after day.

“Before, we did not have a vaccine, so we are all together, all the support. But this community support has kind of waned and people seem to continue to live without us, ”said Rachel Chamberlin. , A 26-year-old nurse from Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire.

Edward Merrens, chief clinical director of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, said more than 85% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients have not been vaccinated.

Several COVID-19 patients in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the hospital were on ventilators with a breathing tube in their throats. In one room, staff prepared for what they feared would be the last visit to the family of a dying patient.

One of the unvaccinated was Fred Rutherford, a 55-year-old man from Claremont, New Hampshire. When he fell ill, his son carried him out of the house and took him to the hospital, where he needed a breathing tube for a while, and he feared that he might die.

According to him, if he returns home, he promises to be vaccinated and will advise others to do so.

“I probably thought I was immortal, that I was cool,” Rutherford said, speaking from his hospital bed outside the window, his voice weak and trembling.

But he added: “I will do my best to be the voice of people who don’t understand that you need to get vaccinated. You must do this to protect each other. “

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