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WKSU, our public radio partners in Ohio and across the region and NPR are all continuing to work on stories on the latest developments with the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can keep you informed.

Northeast Ohio hospitals are alarmed and overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, officials say

Ohio Department of Health
The graph above shows the rise in hospitalizations in northern Ohio since mid-November. Region 2 includes Cuyahoga, Ashtabula, Lake, Lorain and Geauga counties. Akron-area hospitals are becoming overwhelmed and may soon transport patients to other regions due to the surging cases of COVID-19, officials said Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021.

As concern about COVID-19 variants increases, Northeast Ohio hospitals and emergency rooms are reaching capacity, health officials said Wednesday.

Akron hospitals, in particular, are overwhelmed, said Beth Gatlin, spokesperson for the Center for Health Affairs an agency that represents hospitals in the region.

Akron-area hospitals are preparing to transport patients to other facilities, but Cleveland hospitals are not an option as many of them have cut bed capacity due to staffing shortages. So officials are looking for alternatives to transfer patients, she said.

“We’re just running out of beds here, so we’re going to talk to Central Ohio,” Gatlin said. “Because of the number of COVID cases, it’s just backing up those beds.”

The main reason hospitals are so strapped is staffing issues, Gatlin said. Hospitals have had to cut back on bed capacity due to staff members quitting or being out sick, she said.

COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state climbed to 3,988 Wednesday – the highest reported number since September, said John Palmer, director of public affairs at the Ohio Hospital Association. About 1 in 6 patients at Ohio hospitals have COVID-19, he added, and for intensive care unit patients, that statistic is 1 in 4.

“Hospitals are very alarmed at what’s occurring and what potentially could be occurring,” Palmer said.

While the previous COVID-19 surge in August and September was mostly concentrated in the southern parts of the state, that’s not the case this time around, Gatlin said.

“The whole northern region of Ohio is seeing the brunt of the COVID spike right now,” Gatlin said. “Everything north of Canton is really, really being socked with COVID cases, in and amongst the community and in and amongst health care workers too.”

Currently, there are 891 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Region 2, the area designated by the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) that includes Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake and Lorain counties.

Hospitalizations peaked at 1,064 in this region last December, Gatlin said.

“We’re working up to that, and maybe we’ll be, like, equivalent of our peak last year by the middle of December,” she said. “People are just starting to get sick now after Thanksgiving, so there comes the hospitals.”

In ODH’s Region 5, which includes Summit and 17 other counties in the north-central area, 962 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19. This region peaked at 1,059 hospitalizations in December 2020, Gatlin said.

Cleveland Clinic’s COVID-19 hospitalizations have doubled within the past month, according to hospital spokeswoman Andrea Pacetti. There are currently 630 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the Clinic’s Ohio hospitals, compared to 319 on Nov. 1, Pacetti said.

Additionally, emergency room wait times have spiked up due to bed shortages, and some Northeast Ohio hospitals have seen about 30 patients at a time waiting for beds to open up, she said.

The vast majority of hospitalized patients have the delta variant, the highly transmissible strain of the virus that caused a surge in COVID-19 cases in August, Gatlin added.

Cases shot back up again in early November, she said, and increases in hospitalizations usually lag a few weeks behind spikes in cases. College students coming home for fall breaks and the colder weather driving more people indoors could be potential reasons for the surge, she added.

Additionally, states that surround the northern region of Ohio – such as Michigan – have been dealing with major COVID-19 surges, so that could be another reason for the increase in cases, Palmer added.

Hospitalizations are expected to continue to rise due to people contracting the virus while gathering for Thanksgiving, he said, so hospitals will likely triage staff in the coming weeks.

“You’ll see visitation policies probably reinstituted to try to keep bodies out of the hospital. You’ll see even certain services that would have to postpone or delay care just to try to free up beds,” Palmer said.

Summa Health in Akron had previously postponed some procedures and reduced its bed capacity.

The overwhelming majority – estimated to be 80 to 90 percent – of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, Gatlin added. Gatlin encourages those who have not yet gotten a COVID-19 shot to do so to try to prevent a deadly surge this winter.

“Please, everybody try to get vaccinated to help with the surge,” she said. “The health care workers are tired.”

Those who are eligible should get a booster shot as well, she added.

Anyone over the age of 18 who is six months out from receiving their COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for a booster.

Copyright 2021 WCPN. To see more, visit WCPN.