Medical officials in Kansas and Missouri are postponing surgeries, refusing transfers and trying hard to hire traveling nurses, as cases double and triple in eerie reminders of last year’s holiday season.

Hospitals across the country are struggling to deal with burnout among doctors, nurses and other staff, already crushing patients from the ongoing rise of the delta variant of COVID-19 and are now preparing for the fallout of another highly contagious boom.

Ohio has become the latest state to call up the National Guard to help overwhelmed medical facilities. Experts in Nebraska have warned that its hospitals may soon need to rationalize care. Medical officials in Kansas and Missouri are postponing surgeries, refusing transfers and trying hard to hire traveling nurses, as cases double and triple in eerie reminders of last year’s holiday season.

“No class in medical school can prepare you for this level of death,” said Dr. Jacqueline Flom Carlson, an emergency medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. “The blows keep coming.” The government reported that the national average of seven-day hospital admissions for COVID-19 was 60,000 by Wednesday, far from last winter’s peak but 50 percent higher than it was in early November. The situation is more acute in cold weather areas, where people are increasingly congregating indoors and new infections are piling up.

New York state on Saturday reported that more than 21,900 people tested positive for COVID-19 the day before, a new high since testing became widely available. For this season some Broadway shows have been canceled due to an outbreak of illness among the cast; and “Saturday Night Live” announced that they were recording without a live audience and with a limited number of actors and crew.

“We’re in a position right now where we’re facing a very significant uplift in the delta region, and we’re looking over our shoulder at an uptick coming from Omicron,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor, said of the COVID-19 virus. At AdventHealth Shawnee Mission, a hospital near Kansas City, Missouri, chief medical officer Dr. Lisa Hayes said the emergency department is seeing backups that sometimes last several days.

“Family is not the issue. It’s the nurses for family employment. And it’s all caused by rising COVID numbers and fatigue, Hayes said. “Our nurses are exhausted.” Experts attribute most of the increase in cases and hospitalizations to infections among people who have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus. The government says 61% of the US population has been fully vaccinated.

Steve Stites, chief medical officer of the University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, Kansas, said the “unvaccinated pandemic” continues to ravage the hospital and its staff. Our employees are tired. And our travelers are going to run out, and Omicron is on our doorstep. This is a hurricane warning for our community,” States said, referring to a visit by health care workers. The Ohio National Guard deployment is one of the largest National Guard deployments in Ohio, with more than 1,000 members being sent to besieged hospitals especially in the Akron, Canton and Cleveland areas.

As of Friday, 4,723 people in the state have been hospitalized with the coronavirus, a number last seen about a year ago, Governor Mike DeWine said. He added that some employees were only taking short breaks before starting second shifts, health systems elsewhere doing somewhat better looking anxiously at the arrival of the omicron variable and preparing for impact.

Nebraska officials said hospitals may have to suspend some care to make room for COVID-19 patients. While case numbers are down from the peak of the epidemic in the state, they can rebound quickly, and bed availability is still limited by patients with non-viral illnesses. Dr. Angela Hewlett of Nebraska Medicine in Omaha said.

At Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, only 17 coronavirus patients were treated there on Friday, a small part of the hospital’s worst stretch. The nurses’ manager, Edgar Ramirez, said his co-workers are stressed but better prepared if a wave hits.

“The human factor of having that fear is always going to be there,” Ramirez said. “I tell our crew, we have to talk through this. We have to express ourselves. Otherwise it will be difficult.” Twin sisters Linda Calderon and Natalie Paley, 71, had planned the vaccination but delayed it until it was too late. Now they’re on oxygen in the same room at Providence Holy Cross, their beds separated by just a few feet.
“We kept saying, ‘We’ll do it tomorrow.'” Calderon said as she watched her sister struggle to breathe. “We really regret not getting the shots, because if we did, we wouldn’t be like that now.” Pflaum-Carlson, a physician at Henry Ford Health in Detroit, made a public plea for people to get the shots for their own good and for those toiling on the front lines of care. Eighty percent of the nearly 500 COVID-19 patients in the system’s five hospitals have not been vaccinated, and she said, “Be kind and think about how devastating things can happen right now.”

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