SAGINAV, Michigan – On the top floor of the hospital, 13 of the 14 beds were occupied in the ward that houses the sickest Covid-19 patients. A man has just died in one empty room.
Sometime later, nurses at Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw, Michigan, helped sick patients say goodbye to their relatives using video calls. Medical workers were crying in the dimly lit corridors. They saw the number of patients decrease and the beds fill up again. Basically, they have learned to fear the worst.
“You go back to work and ask who died,” said Bridget Klingenberg, an intensive care nurse at Covenant, where the staff is so busy that the Department of Defense recently sent reinforcements. “I don’t think people understand how much it’s going to pay if you don’t do it yourself.”
The highly contagious variant of Omicron arrives in the United States at a time when there are few options left in hospitals, especially in the Midwest and Northeast, where the incidence is highest and where many healthcare professionals are still struggling with the Delta variant. Some researchers hope that Omicron could cause less serious illness than Delta, but health officials still fear that the new option could put the medical system under extreme stress.
About 1,300 Americans die from the coronavirus every day. National rates of morbidity, mortality and hospitalizations remain well below those seen last winter, before vaccines became widely available. In Connecticut and Maine, reports of new infections have increased by about 150 percent in the past two weeks. In Ohio and Indiana, hospital admissions are close to last winter’s devastating wave.
“Living in a constant crisis for 20+ months is a little tiring,” said Dr. Matthew Deibel, medical director of the emergency department at Covenant, where patients sometimes have to wait hours before being seen due to lack of beds and staff. …
With a 20 percent increase in hospitalizations due to the coronavirus in the country over the past two weeks to 68,000, doctors and nurses are talking with renewed alarm about the conditions and begging people to get vaccinated.
In Minnesota, several hospital systems issued a joint message stating that employees are demoralized and that the pandemic “seriously threatens your access to health care.” In Rhode Island, Gov. Dan McKee wrote a letter to federal officials asking for personnel assistance, noting that “hospitals report that their emergency departments are operating at full capacity and that patients are leaving without assessment.” In Nebraska, a hospital released a video in which a nurse made three requests for help for the critically ill virus, but provided beds for only two of them.
The outlook is particularly troubling in Michigan, which has the highest coronavirus hospitalization rate in the country. About 4,700 patients with the virus have been hospitalized statewide this week – more than were reported in the state’s three previous outbreaks. And while the number of daily case reports has dropped slightly from the all-time highs seen before Thanksgiving, more than 6,500 people in Michigan continue to test positive for the virus every day.
Covenant has fewer coronavirus patients than last winter, but limited staff and the return of patients who delayed treatment for chronic diseases during the pandemic have reduced resources.
Earlier this week, about 100 patients at the huge hospital had an active or recently treated coronavirus infection. Of the 68 patients whose infections were still active, about 70 percent were not vaccinated, hospital staff said. Among the vaccinated patients, only two received booster vaccinations.
In the case of Omicron, breakthrough infections are common, but scientists believe vaccines will still provide protection against the worst outcomes. Preliminary evidence suggests that booster doses may provide additional protection against infection.
December 17, 2021 11:12 AM ET
In Saginaw, doctors and nurses said they noticed colleagues struggling with the relentless nature of the pandemic – fatigue, hot temper, post-traumatic stress disorder and frustration with the unvaccinated.
Several Democratic-led states have re-imposed some restrictions in recent days, including new mask rules in California and New York. But in many places, normal life continues, and there seems to be a limited appetite for new restrictions, even as the number of cases increases.
Some school districts have lifted bans on the use of masks in recent days, and federal officials expect Christmas air travel to approach pre-pandemic levels. Unlike last year, few health officials advised people, especially those who had been vaccinated, to skip holiday gatherings.
Around Saginaw, a city of about 50,000 that is 90 minutes north of Detroit, health workers said that sometimes their neighbors might not seem to notice the pandemic. The use of the mask is uneven. Major events have resumed. In Saginaw County, about 50 percent of people are considered fully vaccinated, and this figure does not include boosters. This figure is below the Michigan average, below the national average of 61 percent.
Many members of the Covenant branch stated that if people saw what they do every day, they might behave differently.
“If you are not working in this unit side by side with me, observing the true devastation of the virus and what it physically does to the human body, how can you assess that? How? ”Said Jamie Vinson-Hunter, a respiratory therapist.
It was almost exactly a year ago that doctors and nurses at Covenant and other hospitals were among the first to receive the coronavirus vaccine. For many of them, it was a moment of optimism when it looked like the coronavirus emergency response might end soon. For a while, this seemed possible: for one day in June, there were no patients with active coronavirus infection at Covenant.
Since then, the picture has deteriorated significantly. Immunity from these early vaccines may be waning. While recent data on breakout and death cases among all Americans is not available, recent federal data from nursing homes show a sharp rise in cases among people who have been fully vaccinated but have not yet received a booster shot.
To see how far things have come in Saginaw, it is enough to spend time on the seventh floor of the Covenant. There, in a narrow, low-ceilinged corridor, nurses scurry into and out of wards. Paul is busy, but not in a panic: most of the soundtrack is the humming and squeaking of cars. Many of the patients are sedated and ventilated, unable to talk to their doctors. The rest are confused.
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“This disease is inhuman,” said Dr. Amjad Nader, who cares for the people in the ward. He added, “Sometimes I don’t see the light in the eyes of my patients.”
Many of the nurses on this floor have become viral experts and say they enjoy calling the patient’s spouse when the patient no longer needs a ventilator after a few weeks of treatment. They regret not having the medicine. They grieve every time they lose a patient.
Ms Klingenberg, a nurse, volunteered to work with coronavirus patients at the start of the pandemic and missed out on other assignments.
“This is mostly for my colleagues,” she said. “I don’t want to give them up. And someone has to do it. And it is obvious that we are the people who decided to do it. “
But with the pandemic, she couldn’t refuse to work. Family members tested positive. Earlier this year, when Ms Klingenberg was 26 weeks pregnant, she also tested positive.
Unlike most women in their 20s, she had a bad case and was hospitalized at the University of Michigan. For a while, she was faced with the possibility of intubation. Then, after about a week, she felt better. She was able to return home. Her baby was healthy and did not have to be delivered prematurely.
The experience and fear now help her relate to patients receiving the same breathing procedures that she received a few months ago, she said.
“They have moments of stress because this mass is attached to you, you cannot release it, it pushes air into your lungs,” said Ms. Klingenberg. “Your natural reaction is to fight it. So I can help, I feel, I calm them down and I tell them exactly, “I understand what this is like. I know exactly what you’re going through. ”
At other times, she said, the trauma and ruthlessness of the pandemic – wave after wave – seem too heavy.
“I will take care of these patients, and all of a sudden I’m back at M University, and sometimes I have memories,” she said. “So I’m still trying to heal from this near-death experience. And then I went back to Covid, which was my choice. But it’s a little scary. “