CLEVELAND — It doesn’t have to be this way.
As hospitals and health centers across Ohio continue to fill up with younger patients who are getting sicker than ever from the delta variant of COVID-19, health care workers from across the state found themselves once again pleading with people to get vaccinated.
Gov. Mike DeWine started his Tuesday pandemic briefing with the latest numbers for the state, which added 6,814 new cases in the last 24 hours along with 459 hospitalizations, 47 ICU admissions and 125 deaths. Making the numbers even starker is how many of those statistics account for patients under 50.
“Our hospitals have more younger people in them today," DeWine said. “It’s because of the fact that …our vaccination rate among younger people is just a lot lower than it is with [older] people.”
DeWine said 459 hospitalizations is the most we’ve seen in Ohio since Jan. 12. At that time, patients under 50 accounted for 16% of hospitalizations. By July, that number doubled, with patients under 50 accounting for 32% of hospitalizations.
Several health care workers joined the governor to share a tragic glimpse of what’s happening inside their hospitals and health care centers. If you thought you could escape the pandemic unscathed because you have no underlying health conditions, health care workers say that’s changing, too.
“These patients are healthy this time around, and the vast majority are unvaccinated,” said Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) Program Director at University of Cincinnati Health Dr. Suzanne Bennett. She has more than 10 years of experience in the ICU where the sickest of the sick COVID patients receive their care and said the spike in patients, combined with a shortage of nursing staff, is causing a significant burden.
“It creates scenarios that no one wants to think about,” she said, adding that in some cases they simply don’t have the space for patients who would benefit from their care. ECMO is in such high demand right now, she said she’s even taken calls from out-of-state. In one heartbreaking case she recounted, a father from Arkansas left her a message asking for help for his 30-year-old son who was dying from COVID-19 in Texas. When she called him back, she learned his son had already died, after his father’s desperate attempts to find him a bed fell short.
“All I could do at that point was just listen to him tell a story outlining so many beautiful details about his incredible son and his family… We cried together that night and I hugged my children tighter that night than I had done in a while," Bennett said.
Stories like that are happening across our state. Representatives from Northwest Ohio, Southern Ohio, and Northeast Ohio all shared hauntingly similar accounts of beds filling up fast, patients getting younger, symptoms getting more severe.
Terri Alexander from Summa Health said she’s been in nursing for 26 years and has “never seen anything come close to this.” She talked about the younger Ohioans coming in with COVID-19 symptoms and having to learn a hard lesson about how severe the disease can be.
“Forty-nine-years-old and you’re fit and healthy and you come in and you’re surprised you’re on oxygen, and then you’re surprised you’re on that much oxygen. Now we have to start talking about, you know, what’s our plan B? Do you want to be on the ventilator? How far should we take this with you?” Alexander said, her voice breaking when she talked about the burden health care workers are carrying right now as they shoulder the weight of this delta surge.
“It’s just a sad, sad situation that we’re dealing with, and I think everybody here is emotionally exhausted and just really affected personally, you know, at work and at home,” she said. In Akron, Alexander said they’re also seeing more patients in their 30s, along with more women who are pregnant.
“And it’s tragic,” she said. “It’s tragic that it’s just so preventable. You know, if we could get the community to kind of unite and vaccinate, we’d be seeing these numbers go down. We could get a deep breath and hopefully get ahead of this.”
Ohio Department of Health Director Bruce Vanderhoff was even more blunt, saying at this point it’s probably a matter of when, not if, young, unvaccinated Ohioans get COVID-19.
“Without the protection of a vaccine,” said Vanderhoff, “there is a very real risk you’ll end up in the hospital or even in the obituary pages."
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