Local hospitals face capacity crisis
We are writing out of concern for public health and are urging residents to take strict precautions as we witness the largest hospital capacity crisis since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients arriving in emergency departments face longer wait times, and many leave without being evaluated or treated, potentially putting themselves at great risk.
There are several factors that contribute to this capacity challenge:
- Persistent staff shortages mean that hospital beds that would otherwise be available remain closed to patients, which limits inpatient capacities.
- Respiratory syncytial virus overwhelms pediatric bed capacities and sends many children to the hospital every day. Although RSV is a common disease, it poses a particular risk to children under the age of 2 and is believed to be spreading rapidly due to the end of COVID-19 containment strategies.
- Flu season is in full swing, and flu shot rates are much lower than expected.
- The COVID-19 omicron subvariants currently dominant in the country, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, are highly transmissible, incubate very rapidly, and can evade previous immunity from previous COVID-19 infection and the primary line of vaccines alone – so it’s important that people get the updated bivalent boosters as soon as possible. Only 3% of eligible Worcester residents have received the updated refresher to date. Although not as deadly as other subvariants, they are spurring a new surge and will send many people to the emergency room. People over 60, people with chronic diseases or a weakened immune system are particularly at risk.
- An ongoing mental health crisis, exacerbated by COVID-19, has prompted many patients to seek help, further straining understaffed facilities.
We must do what we can as a community to keep our emergency rooms and hospitals available to those who need them most and avoid the tough decisions about prioritizing care that we saw in the early pandemic. As healthcare and public health agencies take action to ensure the continued operation of our healthcare system, there are three immediate steps all residents can take:
- Embrace masking for indoor activities, especially in schools and gatherings with children, at least until New Year’s Day.
- Get vaccinated against the flu as soon as possible and keep your COVID-19 vaccine up to date (including updated booster shots) to reduce the chance of serious illness and death from either disease.
- Follow other flu and COVID-19 prevention measures, e.g. B. Stay away from school, work, or other activities when you are sick and wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
We look forward to continuing to work with the City of Worcester, Worcester Public Schools and our local health authorities to ensure the health of all residents and we stand ready to support additional mitigation plans.
Chareese Allen, Frances Anthes, Jerry H. Gurwitz, Gary Rosen, and Khanh-Van Tran are members of the Worcester Board of Health