COVID cases overwhelm hospitals going into Thanksgiving holiday

November 24, 2021
COVID cases overwhelm hospitals going into Thanksgiving holiday
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As families prepare to gather over the Thanksgiving holiday, some hospitals across the country are being overwhelmed by COVID cases and staffing shortages, and surges tied to holiday gatherings could make it worse.

A potentially weekslong closure of a New York emergency department on Monday was sparked by a staffing shortage after unvaccinated health care workers were not allowed to continue work due to a state rule. Mount Sinai South Nassau’s emergency room in Long Beach will direct patients to its Oceanside emergency department.

Officials in Denver said hospitals are filling up, with about 80% of those hospitalized for COVID being unvaccinated, 9News reported. Dr. Robin Wittenstein, the CEO of Denver Health, told the outlet their system is on the “brink of collapse.”

“We are here today because too many people chose not to get vaccinated even though they were eligible,” said Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald.

The University of Iowa’s hospital is also worried about hardship as COVID and flu cases are on the rise. In Dubuque County, hospitalizations for COVID are even as high as they were a year ago before vaccines were available.

“It’s cold now, and people are going to be indoors, and everyone’s tired of this,” Chief Medical Officer Theresa Brennan said. “People are hungry for human contact. And because of that, it’s likely people are going to be less strict about gathering, about masking, about distancing than they were last year.”

Hospitals in the cold Upper Midwest, especially Michigan and Minnesota, are also filled with COVID-19 patients who are mostly unvaccinated.

Though the availability of vaccines has made family gatherings safer, health experts are worried that large groups in hot spots, especially with unvaccinated people, could make COVID surges worse over the holiday.

For the holidays, “We would encourage people who gather to do so safely after they’ve been fully vaccinated, as we’ve been saying for months now,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Also in the news:

►Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett urged residents to get a COVID-19 booster shot Tuesday as cases are on the rise, with an average of 267 cases per day and about three deaths per day in the county. 

►Steve Burton, who starred on “General Hospital” for over 30 years, was let go from the show because he did not comply with a vaccine mandate, he announced on Instagram.

►Massachusetts hospitals facing limited capacity be required to reduce non-essential, non-urgent scheduled procedures under an emergency order following staff shortages from the pandemic.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 47 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 773,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 258 million cases and 5.1 million deaths. More than 196 million Americans — 59% of the population — are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘What we’re reading: COVID has pushed a decades-long Michigan emergency medical service workers shortage into a crisis. How much longer before people call 911 and it’ll take too long for help to arrive, if it ever does at all? 

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch free newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Medical, education and transit entities vie for exemptions from Tennessee’s new COVID law

Dozens of Tennessee health care, higher education and consulting entities applied for an official exemption last week from the state’s new law that strictly curtails businesses from enacting COVID-19 restrictions. 

The legislation, signed into law earlier this month by Gov. Bill Lee, prohibits most private businesses from requiring COVID-19 vaccines or proof of vaccination. But the bill carved out a provision for entities at risk of losing major federal funds if they followed the new Tennessee law, such as federal contractors, transportation authorities and health care providers that treat Medicare or Medicaid patients.

The Tennessee Comptroller began accepting exemption applications on Nov. 15 and received 76 by the end of the week, though legitimate applications were slightly less due to some duplicate and errant submissions. So far, denials have been rare.

Of the 76 applications, five were denied and 44 are awaiting approval. 

— Melissa Brown, The Nashville Tennessean

Is another major wave of COVID-19 heading to Kentucky?

Possibly, say some local health professionals who have been watching a gradual increase in new cases. The upturn follows a sharp decrease in cases that came on the heels of a summer surge driven by the delta variant.

“I think… if you look at the entire country, we’re clearly seeing another wave,” said Dr. Jon Klein, vice-dean for research at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. 

“If you look at the places that are surging, I find it hard to find evidence that we are an exception,” said Klein, a member of a local COVID-19 task force of health officials. “We just have too many people who are unvaccinated.”

New infections and the rate of positive cases of COVID-19 have been edging up for a few weeks after a decline in mid-October.

On Monday, Kentucky reported 44 new deaths 822 new cases — the highest Monday in four weeks. Saturday and Sunday — with 2,048 and 1,018 new cases, respectively — were also the worst Saturday and Sunday in a month. 

— Deborah Yetter and Sarah Ladd, Louisville Courier-Journal

Contributing: The Associated Press

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