many US hospitals cut services amid rebound

(CNN) — As COVID-19 hospitalizations hit new highs in the US, more and more states and health care systems are cutting services and relying on the National Guard to fill staffing gaps.

The rise of the omicron variant, first detected in the US just over six weeks ago, has left frontline workers in the medical sector and others at increased risk of exposure. Since healthcare employees need time off to isolate and recover, the need to treat people with COVID-19 remains.

In Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday that hospitals will temporarily halt non-urgent procedures “so that capacity and staff can focus on emerging needs, the people who need it right now.”

This is the projection of deaths from covid-19 in the United States. 0:32

More than 155,900 Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19, according to data Thursday from the US Department of Health and Human Services, beating the records set in last winter’s rebound. And hospitals need additional staff to help provide care.

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

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

“Our healthcare providers are beyond exhausted. We just don’t have enough staff to care for everyone who is sick,” said Lisa Greenwood, associate dean of nursing at Madison College, which is training Guard members.

Nineteen states report less than 15% of the remaining capacity 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.

‘No one is untouchable’

Since the emergence of omicron, which complicated a continued rise in the delta variant, states have relied on military and federal emergency teams to support absences.

Before the New Year, states like Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York called in the National Guard to help with medical and non-medical tasks.

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

“In this increase in omicron, you have to remember that no one is untouchable,” the director of the state health department, Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, said Thursday. He asked people to only go to the hospital in the event of a real emergency, as the staffing shortage remains critical.

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, announced President Joe Biden. Thursday.

Daily COVID-19 infections rise 47% in the US 1:13

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

The assistance needed with staffing is not just limited to healthcare facilities. Many school districts have had to make difficult decisions about returning to learning in person after the break, and the increase has affected educational staff.

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

Earlier this week, nearly 100 of the district’s school bus routes were affected by the driver shortage, but that number has now dropped to 29 routes as of Thursday, Cram said.

There are still problems with the tests

While health experts are hopeful the increase will soon subside, the high volume of infections continues across the country. Confirmed positive COVID-19 cases have risen to a daily average of 771,580 in the US, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, more than three times the average maximum from last winter.

Mitigating the transmission of covid-19 remains paramount, and officials are working to overcome the shortage of rapid tests for covid-19 so that those who are asymptomatic can know to self-quarantine.

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

“This will ensure that while we live with covid, the supply chain does not dictate access for Nevadans,” Sisolak said Thursday.

However, not all cases confirmed through rapid tests are tracked and recorded, which means that the number of people with COVID-19 can be much higher.

Health leaders in Oregon say the omicron variant has become so widespread that it is outpacing its ability to keep track of how many people are infected.

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

Does getting infected with ómicron result in immunity to the virus? 0:58

Rather than interviewing people for contact tracing, Allen said they will focus on tracking outbreaks in high-risk settings, asking people with positive test results to voluntarily report them to the state through a site. web and a direct line.

“Hospitalizations and deaths will continue to represent our most reliable and meaningful metric,” Allen said.

Deaths nationwide have lagged since the worst of last winter’s surge, as the country has averaged 1,817 COVID-19 deaths per day over the past week, data from Johns Hopkins University shows. The maximum daily average was 3,402 a year ago, on January 13, 2021.

CNN’s Katherine Dillinger, Jason Hanna, Joe Sutton, Andy Rose, Hannah Sarisohn, Raja Razek, Elizabeth Stuart and Laura Studley contributed to this report.

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