As families prepare to gather over the Thanksgiving holiday, some hospitals across the country are being overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases and staffing shortages, and surges tied to holiday gatherings could make it worse.
A potentially weeks-long closure of a New York emergency department Monday was sparked by a staffing shortage after unvaccinated health care workers were not allowed to continue work due to a state rule. Mount Sinai South Nassau’s emergency room will direct patients to its Oceanside emergency department.
Officials in Denver said hospitals are filling up, with about 80% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 being unvaccinated, 9News reported. Dr. Robin Wittenstein, CEO of Denver Health, told the outlet their system is on the “brink of collapse.”
“We are here today because too many people chose not to get vaccinated even though they were eligible,” said Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald.
The University of Iowa’s hospital is also worried about hardship as COVID and flu cases are on the rise. In Dubuque County, hospitalizations for COVID-19 are as high as they were a year ago before vaccines were available.
“It’s cold now, and people are going to be indoors, and everyone’s tired of this,” Chief Medical Officer Theresa Brennan said. “People are hungry for human contact. And because of that, it’s likely people are going to be less strict about gathering, about masking, about distancing than they were last year.”
Hospitals in the cold Upper Midwest, especially Michigan and Minnesota, are also filled with COVID-19 patients who are mostly unvaccinated.
For the holidays, “We would encourage people who gather to do so safely after they’ve been fully vaccinated, as we’ve been saying for months now,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Also in the news:
►Boston’s temporary outdoor dining program designed to help boost struggling restaurants has been extended to Dec. 31, Mayor Michelle Wu announced Wednesday. The extension applies to private patios and many public streets.
►Maryland will distribute 500,000 at-home COVID testing kits to health departments across the state. Gov. Hogan said the kits will give “Marylanders more options and more peace of mind as we head into the holiday season.”
►Honolulu and Maui counties will allow restaurants and bars to operate at 100% capacity and eliminate a requirement that groups sit 6 feet apart at restaurants when Hawaii eases some statewide restrictions at month’s end.
►Social distancing became mandatory again across the Netherlands on Wednesday. The country’s leading intensive care physician, Diederik Gommers, called for even tougher measures – including closing schools – to rein in soaring infection rates.
►Malaysia and Singapore said Wednesday they will partially reopen their borders next week to fully vaccinated citizens and some others, after nearly two years of closure
►Steve Burton, who starred on “General Hospital” for over 30 years, was let go from the show because he did not comply with a vaccine mandate, he announced on Instagram.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 47 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 773,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 258 million cases and 5.1 million deaths. More than 196 million Americans — 59% of the population — are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘What we’re reading: COVID-19 has pushed a decadeslong Michigan emergency medical service workers shortage into a crisis. How much longer before people call 911 and it’ll take too long for help to arrive, if it ever does at all?
Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch free newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.
At-home testing strains efforts to track virus
Thousands of people traveling for the holidays this week will first test themselves for COVID-19 without a doctor, lab or any medical oversight. While these quick home tests are hailed as a major convenience and a smart way to protect loved ones, they’ve also raised a significant challenge for public health officials. It’s unclear how often customers report results from the dozen authorized home coronavirus tests that typically deliver results in 15 minutes outside a lab or doctor’s office. Private test manufacturers already make more home antigen tests than standard laboratory tests — and the gap could nearly double next month as new home tests flood the market. Read more here.
“The whole issue of us tracking every single case is just not going to be possible anymore with these (home) tests,” said Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. “We need to move to a different approach.”
– Ken Alltucker
Medical, other entities seek exemption from Tennessee COVID law
Dozens of Tennessee health care, higher education and consulting entities applied for an official exemption last week from the state’s new law that strictly curtails businesses from enacting COVID-19 restrictions. The legislation, signed into law earlier this month by Gov. Bill Lee, prohibits most private businesses from requiring COVID-19 vaccines or proof of vaccination. But the bill carved out a provision for entities at risk of losing major federal funds if they followed the new Tennessee law, such as federal contractors, transportation authorities and health care providers that treat Medicare or Medicaid patients.
The Tennessee comptroller began accepting exemption applications Nov. 15 and received 76 by the end of the week, though legitimate applications were slightly less due to some duplicate and errant submissions. So far, denials have been rare.
Of the 76 applications, five were denied and 44 are awaiting approval.
— Melissa Brown, The Nashville Tennessean
Is another major wave of COVID-19 heading to Kentucky?
Possibly, say some local health professionals who have been watching a gradual increase in new cases. The upturn follows a sharp decrease in cases that came on the heels of a summer surge driven by the delta variant.
“I think… if you look at the entire country, we’re clearly seeing another wave,” said Dr. Jon Klein, vice dean for research at the University of Louisville School of Medicine.
Klein added: “If you look at the places that are surging, I find it hard to find evidence that we are an exception.”
New infections and the rate of positive cases of COVID-19 have been edging up for a few weeks after a decline in mid-October.
Monday, Kentucky reported 44 new deaths 822 new cases — the highest Monday in four weeks. Saturday and Sunday — with 2,048 and 1,018 new cases, respectively — were also the worst Saturday and Sunday in a month.
— Deborah Yetter and Sarah Ladd, Louisville Courier-Journal
Contributing: The Associated Press