As the number of Covid-19 hospitalizations exceeds those seen during the Delta variant surge in the summer and fall, more states are enacting emergency protocols to address hospital staff shortages.
The increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, which has resulted in millions of new cases in just one month, has put frontline workers at a higher risk of exposure, necessitating quarantine and recovery after positive tests. Health officials are also working to fill any gaps in coverage.
States such as Ohio, Maryland, Delaware, and Georgia have mobilized National Guard members to assist with patient care in the last week.
“We continue to face a very serious situation with Covid-19 in Delaware, particularly in our hospital facilities,” Gov. John Carney said Monday, as approximately 100 members of the National Guard are undergoing training to become certified nursing assistants.
Officials at the MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland told CNN that not only is the hospital overflowing with patients in need of treatment, but about 400 employees are also out with Covid-19.
Cpt. Lanette Looney of the Ohio Air National Guard, who is overseeing the mission at the hospital where 28 Guard members are assisting with medical and non-medical tasks, said they have also encountered Covid-19 infections.
Teams of military medical personnel are assisting the Federal Emergency Management Agency with health care staffing in a number of states, including Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, US Army North said in a statement Tuesday.
According to the statement, a 15-person Air Force team will assist a hospital in Manchester, New Hampshire, and a 20-person Navy team will assist a medical center in Buffalo, New York.
According to officials, more than half of New York state’s Covid-19 hospitalizations are currently occurring in New York City, where approximately 75-80 percent of hospital beds are currently occupied. Dr. Dave Chokshi, the city’s health commissioner, said that while he expects hospitalizations in the city to rise in the coming days, the local hospitalization rate is still well below the spring 2020 peak. He claims that staffing shortages are putting a strain on the city’s hospitals.
As more health-care workers become ill, hospitalizations across the country continue to rise. According to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services, more than one in every five hospitals with an intensive care unit – more than 700 hospitals – reported that at least 95 percent of ICU beds were occupied during the last week of December.
In California, where health officials announced Wednesday that the state’s indoor mask mandate would remain in effect until at least mid-February, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said the “impact of COVID on our hospital system and its collective ability to serve Californians” would help determine when the mandate would be lifted.
Meanwhile, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its recommendations for the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine booster on Wednesday, allowing children as young as 12 to receive it at least five months after completing the primary vaccine series.
Earlier on Wednesday, the agency’s advisers voted in favor of expanding the use of boosters for children in that age group, as infections in the United States continue to rise at an alarming rate.
On Monday, the US Food and Drug Administration expanded the emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s vaccine boosters to include children aged 12 to 15. The agency recently recommended a five-day period of isolation following the onset of suspected symptoms or the date of a positive test, with an additional five days of wearing a mask around others or in public if they are not showing symptoms. If a person still has symptoms, such as a fever, after five days, they should be quarantined until they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours.
However, for those who can obtain a rapid test, the CDC updated its guidance on the isolation period on Tuesday. If a person has access to a test and is fever-free, it is best to use a rapid test near the end of the five-day isolation period, according to the report.