Cleveland Shootings Create An 'Epidemic Within The Pandemic' For Hospitals

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MetroHealth Hospitals has a trauma center at its hospital on Cleveland's West Side. [MetroHealth]
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A spike in gun violence and coronavirus cases in Cleveland is putting a double strain on local hospitals..

The 21-day average of daily new COVID-19 cases in Ohio is nearly 7,000. Cleveland and Cuyahoga County issued a 28-day stay-at-home advisory on Nov. 18 in response to surging positivity rates and an 81 percent adult bed occupancy at area hospitals.

At the same time, Cleveland is seeing historic levels of violence. Shootings are up almost 60 per cent. There have been 50 more murders this year than at the same point in 2019.

MetroHealth Trauma Surgeon Dr. Jeff Claridge said beds are filling up at his hospital because of the surge in coronavirus and the spike in violence, which normally drops when colder weather arrives.

“That’s when the system and public health needs to really worry because we’re not seeing the trauma volume drop down,” Claridge said. “If anything, and a couple of my partners were talking about this, it’s almost the epidemic within the pandemic, for sure.”

He said the trauma center will typically see 20 traumatic injuries each night, with weekends being the busiest.

“Going back to March, when people were limiting travel and people were staying inside, we had one month where it was quieter than normal,” said Claridge.

But after the governor relaxed the state’s stay-at-home order in May, Claridge said the number of gunshot victims MetroHealth treated began to grow. It’s a trend seen by cities nationwide.

Claridge thinks there is at least some connection between the pandemic and the increase in violent crime.

“What it’s all related to, who knows? I think our political climate has certainly polarized people more. And then you’ve got COVID that has created a lot of isolation. And you’ve got a lot of guns on the street. That’s not a great situation,” said Claridge.  

Gun sales skyrocketed during the pandemic. Through the end of September, the FBI ran more background checks, which are often used as a way to measure total gun sales, than in all of 2019.

Coronavirus safety protocols for treating gunshot victims, and all patients, make the work more difficult for doctors and nurses in MetroHealth’s Level 1 Trauma Center. They must act as if everyone coming through the door is infected, which means more methodically going from one patient to the next.

“You know you wash your hands in between, you put new gloves on, you take things off, so the process is much more — I’m trying not to use the word aggravating — meticulously, painstakingly slow,” said Claridge.

Because of those enhanced safety measures, more staff is needed, he said. And that poses another potential challenge should the hospital be hit with widespread staff shortages because of COVID-19.

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