Local hospitals have a message for Cincinnati: We're full.
Regional health officials have sounded the alarm for months (actually, since a few months into the pandemic), but now they're being much more direct. The ongoing spread of COVID-19 along with influenza and other respiratory problems are coalescing into a season from hell, and hospitals are overwhelmed.
Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center recently posted to its social media channels that it was "incredibly full."
"This high number of patients, along with increased illness in our community means that our system is under stress," the hospital shared in a Dec. 17 post.
Children's added that wait times were long and that some providers may connect with patients to reschedule admissions or procedures.
"We also need your help. Please be safe — wash hands often, avoid large gatherings, wear masks in public settings and get vaccinated for both COVID and Flu," Children's wrote.
The warning post echoes what Dr. Patricia Manning-Courtney, chief of staff at Cincinnati Children's, has frequently told media, especially as pediatric COVID-19 cases significantly increased this fall before kids began getting vaccinated against the virus (COVID-19 vaccines are available to people ages 5 and up).
"Last December and January were terrifying. They were really frightening times. We didn't see where it was going to end. We knew that we had some vaccine on board, but it was still limited," Manning-Courtney said in November, referring to the significant spike in severe COVID-19 cases last winter. "We can't do that again. We really can't do that again as a healthcare system and as a region. So all the more reason to get vaccinated so we keep that peak down and we don't live through what we lived through last winter."
During a Dec. 15 media briefing with Hamilton County officials, Dr. Richard Lofgren — UC Health's president and CEO — said that COVID-19 continues to be a big threat within the region.
"If there's any message I have that's highlighted in the data, it's that this pandemic is not over. It is active and alive and is actually overwhelming our health systems," Lofgren said.
Last weekend, several Cleveland hospitals took out a full-page ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer begging the public to get COVID-19 vaccines because that region's healthcare systems are overwhelmed with patients. On Dec. 15, Lofgren said that based on Cincinnati's regional data, he estimates that kind of strain to be here within a few weeks if no action is taken.
"Their staff is stretched, they're canceling elective procedures, they're diverting hospitals. They simply do not have the capacity," Lofgren said. "And when I look at their path and trajectory... I feel like we in southwest Ohio may only be a couple weeks behind," he added."
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recently mobilized more than 1,000 National Guard members to assist state healthcare staff due to the strain at hospitals.
The abundance of COVID-19 also has exacerbated other health problems in children, Manning-Courtney said in November. Medical staff saw more children with respiratory issues such as RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and parainfluenza that normally wouldn’t arise until much later in the year. Like COVID-19, RSV and parainfluenza are transmitted through the air, Manning-Courtney said, adding that masking helps keep all of these at bay.
In 2020, many health experts had initially believed that children naturally were more immune to the coronavirus than adults were, but with continued research, scientists have since found that masking and social distancing had largely kept kids from encountering or spreading the virus during those first infection waves. In addition, the Delta variant of the coronavirus is much more transmissible and has a higher viral load than the original strain had, and now the United States is dealing with the Omicron variant, which is still being studied.
Manning-Courtney noted that masking earlier in the pandemic meant very low rates of COVID-19 and respiratory illnesses in kids. But things are different now.
“Now that we have loosened up on our masking practices and kids are getting back together, whether it’s in school or other settings, we’re seeing explosions of these other respiratory viruses at a time when we never see them,” she said.
During a recent briefing with media, Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus and Hamilton County Public Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman stressed that the county provides free COVID-19 vaccinations as well as free on-site and at-home testing kits.
Editor's note: After publication Monday night, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center sent the following update from Manning:
“Friday capped off a very busy week. Things improved over the weekend and generally look better now, as they always do during a holiday week. That being said, we are still preparing, as all of healthcare is, for whatever omicron and the next several weeks will bring.
“We always encourage folks to check with their primary care provider before coming to the Emergency Department or Urgent Care – unless, of course, it’s a 911 type emergency.
“We are seeing a real mix of things: COVID, flu, RSV and other lesser-known viruses, on top of the volume of very sick children with cancer, transplants, injuries, et cetera that we are always managing. Our COVID numbers have been in the double digits for weeks now, and not getting better, unfortunately.
“Staffing across all of healthcare is strained, and we are not immune from that. Healthcare workers are exhausted as a result of the pandemic and have been at this for almost two years now. We need everyone’s help.
“Families can always call to check on the status of their appointments – but they do not need to do that, as we will reach out if there are any changes. We are hoping not to change anything, but we have to be realistically prepared for what the next few weeks portends.”
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