Coronavirus US: Nearly a quarter of hospitals are reporting a critical staff shortage as Omicron drives a rise in Covid-19 cases

“Given the number of infections, our hospitals are on edge right now,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, told CNN on Sunday.

Of the nearly 5,000 hospitals reporting this data to HHS on Saturday, nearly 1,200 — about 1 in 4 — said they are currently severely understaffed, the largest share of the entire pandemic. More than 100 other hospitals said they expect a shortage over the next week.

He said the US healthcare system is Jha’s biggest concern, noting that Omicron’s increase could hamper its ability to care for patients with conditions other than Covid-19.

“The healthcare system is not like that Just Designed to care for people with Covid… It’s designed to care for children with appendicitis, people who have heart attacks and who have car accidents.”

“It’s all going to be much more difficult because we have a large percentage of the population that has not been vaccinated, and a lot of very high-risk people who have not been boosted,” he said. “This combination makes up a large group of people who get infected that will end up straining the resources we have in hospitals today.”

That staff shortage is growing as frontline health care workers become infected or forced into quarantine for exposure to Covid-19 just as demand for treatment soars: More than 138,000 Covid-19 patients were in US hospitals as of Saturday, according to For the Department of Health and Human Services. That’s not far from the peak at all (around 142,200 in mid-January 2021) and an increase from around 45,000 in early November.
To maintain hospital capacity, some facilities are having to cut elective surgeries. In New York, for example, 40 hospitals — mainly in the Mohawk Valley, Finger Lakes and Central Districts — have been asked to stop non-essential electives for at least two weeks due to reduced patient bed capacity, the state health department reported Saturday.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Stephen Stites told CNN Saturday that the University of Kansas health system is also close to implementing crisis care standards, telling CNN: “At some point…we feel too overwhelmed to do any of our normal daily business.”

“At this point, we have to turn on a switch that says we have to sort out the people we can help the most,” he said, and that means we have to let some people die who we were able to help but we weren’t sure about — we went Too far or too much injury, or maybe we just can’t get to that trauma that just happened.”

Two waves hit Kansas simultaneously — with Delta accelerating after Thanksgiving, to be offset by Omicron — Stites said, calling it an “almost double pandemic.” The vast majority of those who are hospitalized are not immunized, Stites said.

About 62.5% of the total US population is fully vaccinated according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data show that about 36% of these received a booster dose.

Dr. Jonathan Rayner, professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, told CNN Saturday that the next several weeks “are going to look bad in many American cities.”

“Forty hospitals in New York just canceled elective procedures. The Metropolitan Hospital Association, where I work, has asked the metropolitan government for permission for hospitals to enact crisis standards of care,” he said. “This comes to every city in the United States.”

Los Angeles sees weekly record numbers of cases

Nationally, 39 states have reported an increase of 50% or more in cases over the past week compared to the previous week, according to a CNN analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. As of Saturday, the seven-day average of new daily cases in the United States was 701,199, according to JHU data.

Some areas are now seeing most of the new cases they’ve seen in the entire pandemic, including Los Angeles County.

On Saturday, the county reported more than 200,000 confirmed cases over the previous seven days — the largest number of cases in one week since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a press release from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The number of hospitalizations doubled over the course of the week, to 3,200 deaths and 135 Covid-related deaths, the department said.
What can the United States expect next from a wave of Covid
With infections soaring, California Governor Gavin Newsom on Saturday announced a proposed $2.7 billion Covid-19 emergency response package designed to boost testing and vaccination efforts, support frontline workers and fight misinformation, his office said in a news release. Newsom also signed an executive order Saturday that “provides consumer protections against price gouging on home test kits,” according to his office.

Also, the high incidence of injuries hit Los Angeles children hard.

At Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, the positivity rate for children tested for Covid-19 rose from 17.5% in December to 45% so far in January, according to CHLA Medical Director Dr. Michael Smit.

CHLA currently has 41 patients at home who have tested positive for Covid-19, and a quarter of children admitted to the facility with Covid-19 require admission to a pediatric intensive care unit, with some needing intubation, Smit told CNN Saturday.

The rise comes in cases like Los Angeles Students prepare to return to in-person lessons on Tuesday.

What do you know if you catch Covid-19 during the holidays

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the country, is asking all students and staff to show a negative Covid-19 test result before returning to class.

Core testing requirements were implemented at the start of the school year in August, and the district announced a week ago that both core testing, along with weekly testing required for all staff and students will run through January, given the current Omicron surge.

Shannon Haber, LAUSD’s chief communications officer, told CNN Saturday that similar protocols in the fall, along with vaccination requirements, mass concealment and sanitation practices “at the level of Ghostbusters,” have made it possible for each of its 1,000-plus schools School Stay open for personal learning this school year.

Haber said that 100% of LAUSD employees have been fully vaccinated and students 12 or older should be fully vaccinated by the start of the next school year, with 90% meeting that requirement so far.

Controversies over personal learning

For the week ending December 30, children made up 17.7% of new cases reported in the United States, the American Academy of Pediatrics said, noting 325,000 new cases were recorded among children — a 64% increase from the previous week.

In response to the rise in children’s injuries, controversies over whether in-person learning is optimal during the Omicron increase and how students can safely go to school are playing out in different school districts this week.

The Chicago Public School System (CPS) has canceled classes since Wednesday due to a dispute between city officials and the teachers’ union over returning to the classroom.
The Chicago Teachers' Union presents a new proposal

The Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) has voted to teach remotely due to the increased spread of the COVID-19 virus, but the school district has canceled classes, saying it wants to learn in person.

The CTU submitted a new proposal to Mayor Lori Lightfoot Saturday in which the union said it would provide clarity on returning to the classroom, create increased safety and testing protocols and restart the education process for students.

CPS rejected the proposal, saying it looked forward to “continued negotiations to reach an agreement.”

The school district approved CTU’s request to provide KN95 masks to all staff and students for the remainder of the school year, and said it will continue to provide weekly Covid-19 testing for all students and staff.

Members of the Chicago Teachers' Union and its supporters stage a convoy protest outside City Hall in the Loop, Wednesday evening, January 5, 2022.
In Georgia, public school teachers who have tested positive for Covid-19 no longer have to isolate before returning to school, and contact tracing in schools is no longer required, according to a letter to school leaders released Thursday from Governor Brian Kemp and Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Tomei.

The Georgia Department of Public Health published an updated administrative order Wednesday that allows teachers and school staff — regardless of vaccination status — to return to work after exposure to Covid-19 or test positive for Covid-19 if they remain asymptomatic and wear a mask while working.

Lisa Morgan, president of the Georgia Teachers Association, told CNN Saturday that she believes the changes were an “absolute mistake that should be made in the worst of times ever.”

“We know that there are increasing cases in our children, that there is an increase in hospitalizations of our children, and this action shows a lack of respect for the health and safety of teachers, students and our families,” Morgan said.

She said teachers want to be in the classroom with their students but that this must be achieved by keeping people healthy.

How 10 parents of school-aged children deal with Omicron, in their own words

She said removing the requirement for contact tracing was frustrating. “Now the teacher will not know if there is a positive case in the classroom. Parents will not know if there is a positive case in the classroom for their children. So teachers and parents will no longer be able to make informed decisions to ensure the health of their children,” Morgan said.

A teacher shortage in Boston prompted superintendent Brenda Casilius to step in to teach a fourth-grade class last week. She told CNN Saturday that the stress of the past two years has been hard on adults and children.

“In particular, it was a challenge for our high school children and middle school students who experienced significant isolation and neglect due to mental health issues,” she said. Going forward, Casilius said that more testing capacity is needed in her area.

“We need our teachers to be included in those tests because the students and teachers who are currently vaccinated are not included in those tests,” she said. “We need some shifts in policy, especially when we are at peak times.”

Deidre MacPhillips, Travis Caldwell, Keith Allen, Raja Razek, Natasha Chen, and Anna Maja Rappard contributed to this report.

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