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Area hospitals stressed by influx of patients; Second Harvest gives out food

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple Army National Guardsman Angelo Billingsley of Painesville brings bread to a waiting vehicle Monday at Eastwood Field, where Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley was providing free food.

Ohio hospitals are seeing so many patients with COVID-19 that need to be admitted that they are transferring patients between hospitals and hospital systems to keep up, doctors said during a Monday briefing hosted by Gov. Mike DeWine.

COVID-19-related hospital admissions in Ohio rose from 600 to 4,000 in 60 days, Dr. Robert Wyllie, Cleveland Clinic chief of medical, said.

All hospitals are becoming stressed, Wyllie said. With 970 employees in the Cleveland Clinic out because of illness or quarantine, it isn’t just bed space or equipment taxed by the unflattened curve, but having enough employees to take care of sick people.

Hospitals already are starting to limit their other care so staff can focus on treating the influx of patients, and other emergency care. Mercy Health Youngstown is indefinitely postponing elective surgeries that require an overnight stay, beginning Thursday, according to a news release.

The Trumbull County Combined Health District and Warren officials are expected today to release a new, joint public health advisory. A special meeting is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. today. Few details were available Monday.

Warren Mayor Doug Franklin said in a social media post that 48 percent of all local COVID-19 cases have occurred in the past three weeks.

After meeting with health officials Monday, Franklin said he was “extremely concerned about the accelerating rise of positive” COVID-19 cases in the area.

“I am sincerely asking everyone to do their part and make sure your friends, family and coworkers do the same. Be particularly mindful of the serious health risks as we celebrate Thanksgiving,” Franklin said.

Mercy Health has not yet had to transfer patients between hospitals or hospital systems in the Mahoning Valley, according to Jonathon Fauvie, its public relations and communications manager.

The rule about elective surgeries and overnight stays applies to all three of Mercy Health’s hospitals in the Mahoning Valley: St. Joseph Warren Hospital and St. Elizabeth hospitals in Youngstown and in Boardman. Mercy Health’s surgical center in Howland is solely for outpatient procedures.

59 PERCENT HIKE

DeWine said Monday that 4,358 patients with COVID-19 were being treated in Ohio hospitals — a 59 percent increase over the numbers two weeks ago. Intensive care units have 1,079 patients with COVID-19 being treated, which is “trending up” as well, DeWine said.

Wyllie said many hospitals are load balancing by transferring patients.

Because hospitalization due to the virus typically takes place more than a week or two after exposure, hospitalizations are expected to keep increasing as long as positive cases numbers do, said Dr. Andrew Thomas with the Ohio State University Wexner Center.

Thomas said he and other public health officials “can’t sound the alarm bell loud enough,” and are counting on the community to change its behavior.

More and more hospitals are expected to make decisions to limit health care services that aren’t absolutely essential, Thomas said, in order to have enough staff to take care of people with COVID-19.

Ronda Lehman, president of Mercy Health’s Lima market, said patients are coming in faster than they can be discharged. As inpatient COVID-19 cases rise, hospitals still have to care for people suffering other emergency needs such as heart attacks, strokes and trauma, she said.

Thomas said care staff may have to be pulled away from other types of clinics to fill gaps in staffing and help with the increased hospitalizations. That will be the “only trigger we have left to pull” if hospitalizations continue to increase.

Even if field hospitals were opened, there aren’t enough health care personnel to staff them, Wyllie said.

But hospitals are well stocked with personal protective gear and ventilators, the doctors said, and they don’t anticipate having to ration supplies or equipment.

Dr. Richard Lofgren, president and CEO of UC Health, said it is best to keep operations within hospitals, but the state would have to be in “particularly dire straits” to see a move to field hospitals to handle the cases.

‘I ALMOST CHOKE’

“I almost choke” when seeing the daily increase of new cases, DeWine said.

The state reported particularly high numbers Monday, but they may be artificially high because two large laboratories in the state had technical issues and could not report their new cases. Because of the high surge in cases and the need to verify certain antigen tests, a backlog of 50,000 test results have not yet been added to the numbers, creating some uncertainty about the report Monday.

Regardless of the uncertainty, there is no question the state is an “historically high level” of spread, DeWine said.

The state reported 11,885 new cases Monday, well above the latest average of about 8,500 new cases per day, DeWine said. The Ohio Department of Health is working to clarify the data.

If the number holds up, it is easily the highest since the pandemic began.

Cases continued to increase locally, where Trumbull County added 190 cases Monday, Mahoning County added 296 and Columbiana County added 111. Trumbull County surpassed 5,000 cases on Monday, and Mahoning County surpassed 7,000 cases, total.

Deaths caused by COVID-19 crossed the 6,000 mark in the state Monday, with 6,020 cases.

There have been 144 deaths in Trumbull County, 299 in Mahoning County and 97 in Columbiana County, an increase of one since Sunday.

At Youngstown State University, with 60 new positive cases identified, is continuing to see its total cases rise.

For the week ending Nov. 14, the university had 55 students and five faculty / staff newly identified with COVID-19.

The majority of the students identified with the virus — 50 — live off campus. Five students live on campus.

In the previous week, the university had 43 total cases, with 41 being students and two staff / faculty members.

The number of people newly identified with the virus has steadily increased since mid-October, according to the university’s website.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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