US coronavirus: Many US hospitals are halting non-urgent procedures as Covid-19 hospitalizations rise

The sudden rise in the Omicron variant, which was first discovered in the United States just over six weeks ago, has left frontline workers in the medical industry and others at greater risk of exposure. As health care workers require time off to isolate and recover, the need to treat those infected with Covid-19 remains.

In Washington state, Governor Jay Inslee said Thursday that hospitals will pause non-urgent procedures “as much as they can dedicate as much capacity and staff to emergency needs, the people who need them right now.”

More than 155,900 Americans have been hospitalized with Covid-19, according to data released Thursday from the US Department of Health and Human Services, surpassing record numbers of increase last winter. Hospitals need additional people to help provide care.

In Wisconsin, members of the National Guard will be trained as certified nursing assistants to support hospitals and nursing homes, Governor Tony Evers said.

“We estimate that the first round of hiring and relief will allow skilled nursing facilities to open 200 beds or more by the end of February,” Evers said Thursday as the state announced a record number of confirmed cases.

“Our health care providers are overburdened. We don’t have enough staff to care for all the patients,” said Lisa Greenwood, associate dean of nursing at Madison College, which trains guard members.

19 states are reporting less than 15% of capacity remaining in their intensive care units, according to HHS data Thursday: Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont.

Nobody can be touched

Since the advent of Omicron—which has held a steady spurt of variable delta—states have relied on military and federal emergency teams to support absenteeism.

Before New Year’s Eve, states such as Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York invited members of the Guard to help with medical and non-medical tasks.

In Ohio, more than 2,000 Guard personnel have been deployed as cases continue to rise. Now with hospitalizations at an all-time high, officials are urging residents to protect themselves from infection.

“In this Omicron surge, you have to remember that no one is untouchable,” State Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhof said Thursday, asking people to go to hospital only in the event of a true emergency where staffing remains critical.

President Joe Biden announced Thursday that more federally deployed medical teams will soon head to six states — Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island — to help hospitals fight Covid-19.

Biden announced plans last month to mobilize an additional 1,000 military medical personnel to help overwhelmed hospitals.

The assistance required with staff is not limited to healthcare facilities only. Many school districts have faced difficult decisions about returning to in-person learning after the holidays, and the increase in the number of education workers has taken its toll.

Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland’s largest school district, has submitted a formal inquiry for assistance from the National Guard to address the shortage of school bus drivers, district spokesperson Chris Cram told CNN Thursday.

Nearly 100 school bus routes in the area have been affected by the driver shortage, Cram said earlier this week, but that number is now down to 29 routes as of Thursday.

Attendees wear face masks as they wait in line for a travel Covid-19 PCR test during the Consumer Electronics Show on January 7, 2022 in Las Vegas.

Test issues still exist

While health experts hope the surge will soon diminish, the massive scale of infections continues across the country. Confirmed positive cases of Covid-19 have risen to a daily average of 771,580 in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University data, more than three times the average peak last winter.

Mitigating transmission of the Covid-19 virus remains critical, and officials are working to overcome the shortage of rapid tests for Covid-19 so that those without symptoms of the disease know how to quarantine.
Early signs suggest the Omicron wave is peaking in some parts of the US, but relief is far from close.

In Nevada, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak announced that the state has ordered more than half a million home antigen test kits that will be provided free of charge, and will be distributed towards the end of the month through “community partners” to be named later.

“This will ensure that, while we live with Covid, the supply chain does not dictate the arrival of Nevadan,” Sisolak said Thursday.

However, not all confirmed cases via rapid testing are tracked and recorded, which means the numbers of people infected with Covid-19 could be much higher.

Oregon health leaders say the Omicron variant has become so prevalent, it’s outpacing their ability to keep track of how many people have been infected.

“We know that the daily case count is missing many home test results, and in the face of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, case data is also missing from many undiagnosed cases,” Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, said in a briefing. Thursday. “To be completely transparent, it is likely that we are approaching the maximum capacity of our testing system to identify cases.”

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Rather than interviewing individuals for contact tracing, Allen said they would shift their focus to tracing outbreaks in high-risk settings, and require individuals with positive test results to voluntarily report to the state through a website and hotline.

“Hospitals and deaths will continue to be our most reliable and important measure,” Allen said.

JHU data showed that deaths nationwide have fallen behind the worst wave of last winter, with the country averaging 1,817 Covid-19 deaths per day over the past week. The average daily peak was 3,402 one year ago on January 13, 2021.

Catherine Dillinger, Jason Hanna, Joe Sutton, Andy Rose, Hannah Sarrison, Raja Razek, Elizabeth Stewart and Laura Studley contributed to this report.

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