COVID hospitalizations putting strain on hospitals ahead of holidays

Ohio hospitals are once again filling up with patients sick from COVID-19.

The strain on the system means some hospitals may delay elective procedures or only accept trauma patients that meet a certain criteria, as health care workers deal with an increase in patients and staffing shortages.

“As a result of the incredible volumes, hitting our hospitals every day, our hospitals are having to make very difficult decisions and implement contingencies to cope with the volume and to deliver care to those most in need,” Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said.

The number of people in west central Ohio hospitalized with COVID-19 has been climbing since mid November, to 338 inpatients as of Thursday afternoon, according to the Ohio Hospital Association.

That breaks down to:

  • About 1 in 7 inpatients in the region are COVID-19 positive, according to the Ohio Hospital Association.
  • About 1 in 6 patients in a regional ICU are COVID-19 positive.
  • Compared to 21 days ago, the number of COVID-19 patients in the region has risen 50%. When cases were falling, the count reached as low as 176 patients on Nov. 17.

Statewide, 4,338 coronavirus patients hospitalized on Thursday, and 1,114 in ICUs.

The last time Ohio had more than 4,000 COVID patients in its hospitals was in January during the state’s winter surge, Vanderhoff said. He said the situation is “every bit as serious as last December and January.”

Counties below Ohio’s average vaccination rate generally have hospitalization rates 35% to 40% higher than states above that average, Vanderhoff said.

While vaccinated people may still get a mild case of COVID, the shots generally protect people from severe cases that could lead to hospitalization or death.

“It’s clear that higher vaccination rates are associated with lower rates of hospitalization and death,” Vanderhoff said. “...That’s what vaccines were created to do. To keep people alive and out of the hospital.”

Seasonal illnesses

Other common respiratory viruses are circulating in the area at this time.

Dr. Teresa Zryd, with Premier Health and president of the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians, said COVID-19, RSV and influenza are the big three respiratory illnesses circulating at this time.

With flu, she said people quickly start to feel bad, where with COVID it can take days to feel sick. They can carry some of the same symptoms, like fever or cough.

“But with COVID we’re still seeing that loss of sense of small and taste as a big indicator,” Zryd said. She said point-of-care testing is becoming important to be able to identify and start appropriate treatment.

Flu shots are encouraged before the holidays and take about two weeks to be fully effective.

New COVID-19 hospitalizations have been worse in the northern half of the state. Last week in rural Williams County in the northwest corner of Ohio, three rural hospitals were not taking new ambulance patients. Nearby urban hospitals were overwhelmed and it was difficult to find beds for patients needing to transfer to larger hospitals for specialty care.

“So we have we have stroke patients sitting in our hospital hoping for the best when they really need to be seeing an interventional neurologist in a larger city,” said Dr. Gary Seaman, the medical director of the Williams County Health.

Reid Health, which has locations in Richmond, Ind. and Greenville, announced Wednesday that it has paused elective inpatient surgeries, and is reviewing scheduled surgeries for urgency, reaching out to those who will need rescheduled.

Kettering Health said as of Wednesday they are not cancelling elective surgeries.

Premier Health is “balancing schedules to maximize the care we can provide, including elective surgeries. When appropriate, some procedures are being rescheduled to ensure this balance.”

“We understand that just as COVID-19 is not letting up, neither are many other health care needs in the community,” the health system said in a statement.

Preparing for holidays

Vanderhoff reminded residents getting ready to celebrate Christmas in just two weeks that it does take time for the vaccines to be effective.

For the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine and booster, it takes two weeks to kick in, and the two-shot Moderna an Pfizer vaccines can take five to six weeks from the first dose to be considered fully vaccinated.

Ohioans who won’t be vaccinated in time for holiday celebrations should consider taking a COVID test before traveling or gathering with friends and family to avoid spreading the virus.

Vaccines holding up against omicron

Early research into the omicron COVID-19 variant indicates vaccines still protect against severe illness from the virus, Vanderhoff said.

“The results of the early research are encouraging, reinforcing the benefits of the primary vaccination series and when it is time, boosters,” he said.

While the omicron variant has not been identified in Ohio yet, it’s only a matter of time, Vanderhoff said. In the mean time, the state will continue to monitor and learn from new data and research as it is available.