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Omicron surge and labor shortage leave Cleveland hospitals overwhelmed, National Guard here to help

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Posted at 10:46 PM, Dec 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-27 23:11:28-05

CLEVELAND — Ron Graham is the Health Commissioner Lake County General Health District. He said a lot of the problems health departments are facing come down to supply and demand.

“The problem, the challenges, it's just supply and demand and it's been something that's haunted public health, that's haunted the government from the beginning. This has been a struggle and certainly maybe why things dragging on a little bit longer they would like,” he said.

The demand for COVID-19 tests is the highest it’s ever been, but the supply can’t keep up.

“We just have very few available right now, probably like 30 on hand,” he said. “Everybody is just scrambling for those limited test kits.”

Jim Adams is the commissioner for Canton City Public Health. Adams echoed Graham’s sentiment.

“The federal government came up with the strategy of getting more and more tests, however, it does not seem like it was backed up with the logistics to get test kits on the shelves,” he said. “We don’t have enough kits for the general public.”

Both commissioners hope to have more in the coming days and weeks.

But as omicron continues to make its way through the population and hospitalizations continue to rise, the demand for healthcare workers does too.

“It’s really the most dangerous point in the pandemic,” said Robyn Strosaker, the chief operating officer with University Hospitals’ Cleveland Medical Center.

“Our COVID census is double what it's been in any other peak in the pandemic over the last 22 months,” she said.

But a labor shortage and COVID19 sickness among staff have resulted in a low supply of able workers.

“That's really been compounded over the last few weeks with hundreds of our caregivers who have been sidelined with illness of their own,” she said. “We're concerned that after the holidays with people gathering, things could get worse before they get better.”

University Hospitals received 50 Ohio National Guard members dispersed throughout 5 of its overwhelmed hospitals. Governor Mike Dewine and the Ohio Department of Health called up the guard members.

“The fact that we've got guardsmen in our hospital right now really speaks to the seriousness of this point in the pandemic,” said Strosaker.

The guard members will be acting as non-clinical team members. They’re helping with things like supply running, answering calls and cleaning rooms, helping hands that Strosaker said they’re extremely grateful for.

“There's plenty, plenty they can do to help,” said Strosaker. we had plans for situations like this at the beginning of the pandemic that we never used, and this is definitely the worst it's been throughout the entire pandemic.”

The same day the National Guard members made their way to Cleveland to help with the surge, the CDC lowered its recommended quarantine time for anyone who is positive and asymptomatic from 10 days to five days and then five days with a mask.

“This campaign has been extremely confusing from the very, very beginning,” said Graham.

But he stressed health officials are continuing to research the data. He said the CDC’s change may be to ease some labor shortages so people can get back to work.

“I think we did have had to do something to keep moving in the right direction,” he said.

But one stance that doesn’t change for all health officials: take precautions.

“COVID is still a serious illness, however, there are a lot OF significant things we can do to lower our risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID and number one is vaccinations,” said Adams.

Strosaker urges people to think twice before gathering in large groups, especially if they’re unvaccinated or eligible to receive a booster and have not yet gotten one.