COLUMBUS, Ohio — On Monday, Gov. Mike DeWine held a briefing to discuss the state of COVID-19 in the state of Ohio and was joined by medical professionals from across the state, who said the recent surge in COVID-19 is now impacting the staffing at hospitals and medical centers across the state.
Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the incoming chief medical officer at the Ohio Department of Health, said that in the spring and summer, the challenges medical professionals had were related to personal protective equipment and physical capacity. But now, there is an increasing demand on the staff.
Nurses, doctors and other staff are increasingly having to leave work due to community exposure to COVID-19 and contracting the virus outside of work, taking them away from assisting in the hospitals and medical centers they work out, Vanderhoff said.
"If we don't see a shift in the way things are going, meaning if we don't control the spread of the virus in our case numbers, we won't be able to continue caring for the acutely ill without postponing important but less urgent care," Vanderhoff said.
Dr. Robert Wyllie from the Cleveland Clinic said there’s only about 10% of the hospital beds and 13 to 14% in ICU beds, which is a positive—but said there are 300 staff members at the facility out as of Monday after contracting the virus in the community.
This is a common occurrence across the state recently, doctors said.
Dr. Andrew Thomas from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center said that while there are people regularly wearing masks when out in public, the problems come when individuals let their guard down at weddings, birthdays, parties and other gatherings within their communities.
“We need citizens to do the same things they did back in the spring,” Thomas said.
Those things include wearing masks, frequent hand washing, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings, Thomas said.
Dr. Rick Lofgren, president and CEO of UC Health in Cincinnati, said that the impact on hospitals is highly sensitive to the rate and spread of the virus through communities.
He said if the surge rates don’t decrease, by Thanksgiving, hospitals in his zone will be at 30% capacity with the numbers increasing from there.
If rates go up, Lofgren said medical professionals may have to resort to deferring non-COVID-19 medical care, as was done in March when elective surgeries were put on hold, although he said Ohio is not to that point yet.
Lofgren also said that because of the surge of cases, the ability for local health departments and medical professionals to contact trace is becoming more and more difficult. With that said, they have noticed that many of the outbreaks are occurring within households who feel comfortable around each other and let their guards down—something he said needs to change. He then explained why it's so important.
"If you want to keep the business community and our economy thriving, you will follow this," Lofgren said, "If you want to have some social contact, albeit different, this is the why. If you want to keep schools open, this is the why. If you want to make sure that we don't have to defer non-COVID care because we're just busting at the seams, this is the why."
Dr. Ronda Lehman, President of Mercy Health, said that the issue isn’t just in big cities. The suburbs and rural areas are contributing to the high rates and behaviors that are causing increased spread in the smaller cities and towns also need to be addressed.
“The strongest gesture that anyone can make right now isn’t with their words or with acknowledging people, it’s with their behaviors,” Lehman said. “So I’m imploring you to dial it back, scale it back, gather less.”
The doctors said that because the spread is being traced back to community events, weddings, parties and social gatherings, the state is not at the point where it needs to consider business shutdowns or stay-at-home orders.
Instead, they encourage citizens to monitor personal behavior for themselves, family and friends—as well as the health care workers who are contracting the virus and minimizing the staffing at facilities across the state—especially with the holidays approaching.
"I think that moving forward with Thanksgiving and then the December holiday season, it's going to have to be a priority for people to realize that there are other ways to be with loved ones and be in their life than all being in a room together for hours and hours and hours at a time, as much as we've done that for years and generations," Thomas said. "It's going to have to be the tough choice that people make to get to that end point as we've been describing where there is a vaccine that's abundantly available later in 2021 that will be part of our pathway past this pandemic.
"It's going to have to be a must or else what feels like a very, very busy flu season right now—that's usually in mid-January, right now it feels like that in early November—I can't imagine what January is going to look like if people are not willing to make those tough choices and those sacrifices in a very meaningful way."