Connecticut emergency rooms are strained as the virus surges
A surge in coronavirus infections is straining Connecticut hospitals as emergency rooms fill with people who have only mild symptoms and are having trouble finding tests elsewhere, hospital officials and health care workers said Tuesday.
Many patients in emergency rooms are in overflow beds in hallways, and nurses are often working double shifts due to staffing shortages, said Sherri Dayton, an emergency department nurse at the Backus Plainfield Emergency Care Center and a vice president with the AFT Connecticut labor union. Many emergency rooms have hours-long waiting times, she said.
“We are drowning. We are exhausted,” Dayton said.
As the super-contagious Omicron variant rages, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide has jumped to 1,562 as of Tuesday from 385 on December 1 — the highest total since the first week of May 2020. Daily hospitalizations of people with COVID-19 reached their highest number — 1,972 — on April 22, 2020.
State officials and hospital leaders, however, say fewer people are requiring intensive care and ventilators compared with early in the pandemic.
“The vaccinations and the boosters are making an enormous difference,” Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday. “We have a high infection rate. We’re holding the line on our hospitalizations, in particular the ICUs (intensive care units) where we need capacity there. What a difference that makes.”
Lamont said no new virus mandates are planned, despite calls from health care workers for a statewide mask rule for indoor places and other precautionary requirements.
Lamont continued to urge people to get vaccinated and receive a booster shot. Nearly 70% of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in the state are not vaccinated. The most serious cases are still because of the delta variant, hospital officials say, while the omicron variant continues to surge.
In the Hartford HealthCare system, which includes seven acute-care hospitals across the state, hospitalizations are approaching their pandemic peak of 425 in April 2020, said Dr. Ajay Kumar, the system's chief clinical officer. He said 55 patients are in critical care, lower than the high of 128 patients in 2020. He said COVID-19 is not stressing critical care capacity at the moment.
Kumar and Dr. Tom Balcezak, chief clinical officer at Yale New Haven Heath, which runs five acute-care hospitals in the state, said emergency rooms are stressed. Many people are seeking testing or treatment for mild symptoms, while others who are coming in for virus-unrelated problems are testing positive. Lines remained long Tuesday at testing sites around the state, as demand for tests outpaced testing supplies.
Balcezak said the current spike in coronavirus infections has created staffing problems because hospital workers are coming down with the virus at a rate not seen before during the pandemic.
“Today we had 630 staff out with COVID; we’ve never seen numbers that high,” he said.
Balcezak also said officials are seeing a number of staff suffering from burnout due to extra shifts and spending the last 20 months dealing with the disease.