Hospital COVID-19 counts high compared to last year

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Area hospitals are seeing a surge of COVID-19 patients comparable to the height of the pandemic in 2020, and it is only expected to get worse.

Garen Rhome, administrator with the Harrison County Health Department, said the problem is widespread.

“Generally speaking, what we’re seeing as far as cases go is cases comparable or worse to early January of this year, the difference being in January we were on the downside of the curve,” he said. “We seem to be on the upswing of a curve in the beginning of a surge. We are seeing cases like November, December of last year.

“Oftentimes you’ll see 7,500 cases a day reported in Ohio and you can go back and you can say, ‘Well it hasn’t been that high since January.’ The difference then was we were coming down then, in January. The concern is it’s mimicking the way we were in November and December.

“Here in Harrison County in the last week to 10 days, we look like Nov. 30-Dec. 15, the first half of December right now, and not necessarily any sign of this upward trend wavering. We still see cases coming in in high volumes each day, unfortunately,” Rhome said.

Rhome consulted hospital trends and referred to Ohio Hospital Region 8, which includes Belmont, Harrison, Monroe, Guernsey, Jefferson and other counties in the southeastern part of the state.

He said the pressure is being felt at Harrison Community Hospital.

“Our community hospital is deemed a critical access hospital, which most COVID patients certainly don’t stay here. Most might go to the ER, then they get moved somewhere. Typically nowadays to WVU Hospital system,” he said.

Referring to current ICU bed capacity throughout Region 8 as reported by the Ohio Hospital Association’s daily census, Rhome said late last week there were 613 total in-patient beds in the region, and less than 20 percent of the beds are unoccupied.

Rhome said 121 are unoccupied, and 172 are occupied by COVID inpatients, or 28 percent. He said this is the highest in the last two weeks or more.

“This is a stark and staggering statistic,” Rhome said. “There are 78 ICU beds according to the Ohio Hospital Association daily census in Region 8, 48 of those as of (Thursday) are occupied by COVID patients.

“That’s 61.5 percent of ICU beds in Region 8,” he said. “Only eight in Region 8 ICU beds are unoccupied.”

He said patients from different parts of the region can find themselves in another hospital’s bed.

“They track and have to move patients around to different regions,” he said, adding that Southeastern Med in Guernsey County and other systems in Zanesville and Marietta have moved patients north to the Harrison County area.

“It’s in the same region, but they move patients north where there are some more beds accessible,” Rhome said.

“We know from information shared through hospitals that the vast majority of ICU inpatients and ventilator patients are unvaccinated. The vast, vast majority,” he said.

He said on Sept. 14 in Cambridge, Southeastern Med reported 13 positive COVID cases, one was vaccinated and the remaining 12 were unvaccinated.

“Of those patients, four of them are in ICU. Those four are all unvaccinated. Three more ventilated patients, all three unvaccinated,” he said.

On Thursday, about six of Harrison County’s current cases were hospitalized.

“And we’re still seeing breakthrough cases in general,” he said. “Between 10 and 15 percent, someone fully vaccinated gets infected with COVID-19, but that is not necessarily an important statistic. That just shows the vaccine is really, really effective at preventing infection. It is very robust and very powerful in preventing serious infection that requires hospitalization, ICU, ventilators and even death. If we see 10 or 15 percent of our cases are breakthrough cases, it still doesn’t translate all the way to hospitalized cases. … It’s showing the efficacy of the vaccine. It’s still standing up to COVID and all the variants.”

Meanwhile, Belmont County Deputy Health Commissioner Robert Sproul said as of Wednesday, Belmont County has had 8,096 confirmed cases since the pandemic began, with 6,903 recoveries, 1,059 active cases, nine people hospitalized and 125 deaths related to the virus, with the latest being a woman in her 40s.

Last year at this time, there had been 729 confirmed cases with 672 recoveries, 27 active cases, five people hospitalized, and 25 people had died after being infected.

The demand is also high at Wheeling Hospital.

“This year’s surge is different than last year’s because it is affecting patients who are much younger. Patients are occupying critical care beds, which causes increased strain on the healthcare system. Watching younger and younger patients becoming ill is also very difficult on staff. We need the public to look at how the increasing cases are affecting healthcare and do their part and get vaccinated,” Thea Gompers, director of marketing and public relations at Wheeling Hospital, said.

Bernie Albertini, administrator in chief at East Ohio Regional Hospital, reported EORH has approximately three ICU beds and 20 med surge beds available at present, but said staffing shortages, which are an industry-wide issue, are the problem rather than bed shortages.

He said EORH currently has six COVID cases filling the beds. He could not compare this to last year, since EORH was not open during last year’s surge and its opening coincided with vaccine availability.

Albertini said about 95 percent of current COVID cases are unvaccinated.

The CEO of WVU Medicine Barnesville and Harrison Community Hospital, David Phillips, joined the hospital leadership throughout Region 8 with a public letter trying to communicate the need in hospitals.

“Bed availability is limited throughout the area due to the surge. It is a much more challenging situation than at any time prior in the response to COVID-19. Most of those needing hospitalization and higher levels of care are those who are unvaccinated,” Phillips said.

“Barnesville Hospital and Harrison Community Hospital have seen a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases compared to this time last year,” Phillips said. “Due to the increase in cases and the strain on the local healthcare system, the majority of area hospitals have limited or no bed capacity to transfer critical patients.”


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