Credit: Nick Graham
Credit: Nick Graham
Credit: Nick Graham
The Dayton region has become one of the centers of the Omicron surge as local hospitals set a record for the number of patients with COVID-19 on Monday.
Due to this urgent situation that threatens our region’s health care, the Dayton Daily News hosted a Community Conversation at noon on Thursday, Jan. 27 with a panel of experts from Dayton Children’s Hospital, Premier Health and Kettering Health Network.
The discussion was co-hosted by Community Impact Editor Nick Hrkman and Reporter Jordan Laird. Panelists included:
The following was edited for brevity and clarity. You can watch the full Community Conversation on daytondailynews.com or on the Dayton Daily News Facebook page.
Where are we in the surge right now? Have we peaked? Are we peaking?
Colón: We’ve been hearing for a while that cases were starting to decline Ohio and I think what we have to recognize is that, as a state, we have actually been seeing some decrease in the number of new cases. But there are a lot of regional differences. And across our region, we actually just this week hit the highest number of hospitalized COVID patients that we’ve had at any point in the pandemic. So, while as a state we had actually been having some steady decrease, I believe here in the region, we are just now getting to that top number. Over the last few days we’ve started seeing some of the decline in hospitalized cases. So I think we are probably a few weeks behind the rest of the state, but very likely going to start seeing that decline here soon.
What is it like inside hospitals right now treating COVID patients?
Pook: We’ve been dealing with a very high numbers of very sick patients. When you add to that to the number of staff illnesses that have caused our staff to utilize every single bed available. Sometimes people wait to get into the emergency department and once they have a plan to be admitted, there is a wait time to to actually get to that hospital bed. So, we are very, very full. In addition, many of the elective surgeries have been postponed.
Mezoff: As a means of comparison, at the end of December, we had about five patients at Dayton Children’s with COVID. And in the last week we’ve had between 20 and 30. So, as mentioned, this is very regional and while we are all hopeful that we will start seeing declines, remember that patients admitted to the hospital don’t leave right away. So even if the amount of infection in the community goes down in the next week or so, there’s still a lot of work to be done with the patients who are already in the hospital.
How do we combat COVID fatigue?
Mezoff: First of all, what I want everybody to know is: We all feel that. Unfortunately, Mother Nature gets to decide when we’re done — we don’t. The risks remain as long as the infection is present. So it takes mental toughness to keep pushing forward. I would also make a pitch for the fact that while all of this can be overwhelming, the tools that we use to combat this can help us get out of this quicker, whether it’s masking (especially indoors) and all of us deciding as a community that we’re going to get vaccinated. Because it protects children, it protects people who are elderly, it protects people who have cancer.
Colón: You can’t ignore it away. And I think the the idea that we’re just going to turn off the TV and let nature take its course and let the virus go nuts — that isn’t going to help this go away. That’s going to make the situation worse. What we need to do is really focus on what we can do to change the tide, what empowers us, what makes us feel like we can make a difference. It’s exhausting when you hear about a disease and you feel powerless to impact it. We are not powerless. We can choose to wear masks, we can choose to avoid large gatherings, we can choose to, as a community, do a better job with vaccinations. Some of these healthy habits should be a part of our DNA at this point.
Are the majority of patients hospitalized right now unvaccinated?
Pook: Yes, most of the people that are hospitalized are unvaccinated. As of yesterday, 83% of all COVID deaths in our region have been in those that have been unvaccinated. So it’s really important to rethink things if you have chosen to be unvaccinated. Should I consider getting vaccinated now that there have been now millions of people that have been vaccinated, now that millions of children have been vaccinated? What does that look for me and for my family? I think it’s really important to re-evaluate that for somebody who might be sitting on the fence.
How has this surge and COVID patients overwhelming our healthcare system affected all residents’ healthcare?
Colón: I think any time that you put barriers in a health care system, it is going to tremendously impact all of those that get care in the community. If you go way back to when we started the pandemic, even in the first year, we saw that things like cancer survival actually dropped because people were not able to go through with things like screening for cancers or the timeliness of evaluations. We saw, following those peaks, this increase in the number of people that were coming to the hospitals with heart disease, elevated blood pressures, poorly controlled diabetes, etc. because they weren’t getting the adequate level of care that they needed. As we put off things like elective care, it may be elective in the grand scheme of who needs a procedure right now versus who can delay it. It affects everyone, not to mention all of the healthcare workers that are working additional hours and they themselves cannot go on to be able to manage the care for their own medical conditions. This has affected every aspect of our community’s ability to get access to health care. So, things like telehealth medicine that have emerged in such a great way can help mitigate, but doesn’t completely eliminate the impact of COVID.
From a Facebook user: I heard a report on NPR this morning of a new Omicron strain in Asia that has been detected in some US states and is likely to spread across the US soon. Can you explain to us how these strains will continue to develop?
Mezoff: The virus is going to make itself more fit to continue to survive. So what happens is there are genetic variations that happen, especially when people are close together, when it has a chance to jump from one person to the next. There are labs that study the sequences on a regular basis. And every couple of weeks we hear about a new variant that’s out there and that those surveillance labs are there to not only see what viruses are going to be in the community, but coming up with strategies for attacking them and whether the antivirals we currently have will be effective with a new variant. And so providing that information in a timely manner is really important. I’d just like to add another point. I want people to think about the term “variant” because we invariably assume that’s bad news and nobody likes them. And, yes, the better vaccination rates we have worldwide, the better. But let me remind you that sometimes variation is okay. So if the variant is such that it doesn’t harm us as much as a previous variant, that’s not a bad thing. Remember, variant is a term that means many different things. So just having a variant itself doesn’t mean bad.
What can institutions, business leaders and policymakers do to help to alleviate the load on healthcare workers and to address this surge?
Mezoff: A well vaccinated community stands stronger and better than one that isn’t. I’m very sensitive to the fact this is a tough decision for a lot of folks. We get it. Many of us, myself included, as soon as this vaccine was available, I rolled up my sleeve, in part because I wanted to demonstrate my sincere belief in its safety. There have been over 10 billion doses of COVID vaccine given worldwide. I think we have seen more than enough evidence that these are safe and that they are effective. What I would ask is to continue the education about that, and the fact that immunity isn’t one thing. So none of us expected that with a vaccine, we would never get any symptoms or never contract an illness. What we expect is we won’t get a severely ill or even die from this. And sometimes the message gets lost that that’s a huge victory. And because somebody who’s been vaccinated happens to get sick isn’t a failure. In fact, if they’re still alive and at home, it’s a victory.
One in five healthcare workers nationally have left the profession and the staffing shortage is going to have a lasting impact. Could you talk about the burnout for health care workers?
Colón: I think when people realize how many have left health care in the last year, it’s a very sobering statistic. Burnout is affecting everyone. I don’t think there is anyone in healthcare that hasn’t felt some of that, throughout this pandemic. That’s not going to go away anytime soon. I think that that is something that is going to be with us, even when we come out of the current surge, because that is not a workforce that is immediately going to be able to be replaced. You need people who are trained, who are skilled, and who are going to be available. This is a nation-wide problem. This is affecting a lot of people. It’s going take a lot of time, but I will tell you that there’s a little bit of hope because this has been so well documented. There is some new interest in people going into healthcare. We have seen increasing numbers of enrollments in medical schools and nursing schools. So people aren’t necessarily completely moving away of healthcare. There is a bit of a turnover going on right now, but I think down the road, as we’re able to replenish, that the industry will be okay. But that’s not going to be a quick fix, and it’s something all of us will have to contend with.