OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — As the COVID-19 pandemic approaches its second year and one year of vaccination availability, doctors leading Nebraska’s fight against the virus pleaded for the public, via a Zoom press conference, to consider the importance of vaccinations and boosters.
“What I see as the most devastating is the continued despair and anguish that these poor families have to go through... but on top of that, the unimaginable emotional toll that it's taking on all of our staff," said Dr. Adam Wells ICU Medical Director at Methodist Hospital.
From nurses to nutrition staff, from CHI Health to Nebraska Medicine, staff are strained; not only due to maximum ICU inpatient capacities being breached or nearly breached, but the intensity of the care that these patients require.
“This isn’t your average ICU patient that comes in for some quick fix and they are either dead or better in three days; you’re here for three weeks,” said Dr. Brian Boer, Section Chief of Critical Care Medicine at Nebraska Medicine.
“You are a massive burden to our healthcare system, and we are happy to take care of sick people and get you well; and we recognize people make bad choices and may choose not to get vaccinated, for example, but it’s really kind of crushing our healthcare system at this point," Boer said.
Nebraska Medicine has taken in roughly 4,000 COVID inpatients, 1,000 of which have required critical care in the ICU, roughly 500 of which have been intubated, and about half of that have died or will die.
The trend of national improvement for cases stopped in late October and an increase of community transmission has started an upward deflection. Nebraska is at its highest level of 2021 COVID hospitalizations at 528 patients; in Douglas County, 222 patients; in Lancaster County, 80 to 90 patients.
Physicians discussed that hospitalization rates, as well as ventilator and ICU capacities, are largely similar to the rates of this time in 2020, but it is precisely this lack of change that has worn on healthcare workers and their families, leading to an exodus of workers from the healthcare industry in favor of jobs with less stress and higher pay. The higher volume of patients requiring round-the-clock care is harder for the lessening number of healthcare professionals who handle them.
This is on top of a potential rise in cases.
“It looks like the US is entering another surge,” said Dr. Matthew Donahue, Acting State Epidemiologist at Nebraska DHHS.
Donahue showed a heat map of cases across the United States that, he said, puts “Nebraska smack in the middle of current national hotspots… COVID-19 is still here and it’s hurting Nebraskans.”
Data collected by Nebraska DHHS also showed the rate of COVID-19 contraction in Nebraska to be ten times higher for the unvaccinated.
“That means that vaccines work, they work well, they’re working here in Nebraska, this month, to keep people out of the hospital,” Donahue said.
Donahue says unvaccinated 30-year-olds are filling the hospitals at similar rates as fully vaccinated people older than 80.
Dr. Robert Plambeck, ECMO Director of Critical Care for CHI Health, corroborated this and explained a striking shift in hospitalization demographics.
“Younger adults are overall less likely to be hurt with COVID-19: we know this. But when we look at hospitalization rates by vaccinated status and by age, young unvaccinated 30-year-olds are being hospitalized at similar rates as vaccinated individuals over 80. That’s Nebraska-specific data. That’s proof that younger people have a lot to benefit from vaccination.”
Plambeck also said that 75% of the people in his ICU were COVID patients. Of these patients, the majority were younger than age 60 with minimal or no comorbidities.
“The sad thing is, it didn't have to be that way,” said Plambeck. “They could have gotten vaccinated and not winded up in the ICU and dying on a ventilator.”
Further threats on the horizon include the omicron variant and the winter months that result in a higher frequency of indoor gatherings due to the holidays and ensuing cold weather.
The doctors noted that the majority of the public are currently eligible for a booster dose which will strengthen an individual’s antibody response against potential variants and contraction of COVID-19 altogether.
“This isn’t made up, this isn’t from some other place out there,” said Donahue. “Getting that primary series if you’re unvaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and your community. And that’s true not just for the elderly but also for younger Nebraskans.”
"If you haven't gotten the message yet, it's looking bleak for all of us, so whatever you can do to get your friend to get vaccinated, do it," Boer said.
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