Hospitals Experiencing a Different Kind of COVID Surge

Registered nurse Rachel Chamberlin, of Cornish, N.H., steps out of an isolation room where Fred Rutherford, of Claremont, N.H., recovers from COVID-19 at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., on Monday. Hospitals like this medical center, the largest in New Hampshire, are overflowing with severely ill, unvaccinated COVID-19 patients from northern New England. If he returns home, Rutherford said, he promises to get vaccinated and tell others to do so, too. Steven Senne/Associated Press

Hospitals are experiencing serious staff shortages as many health care workers are testing positive and are getting sick to the point of having to stay away from the job.

Nearly two years into the pandemic, frustration and exhaustion are running high among health care workers.

“This is getting very tiring, and I’m being very polite in saying that,” said Dr. Robert Glasgow of University of Utah Health, which has hundreds of workers out sick or in isolation.

But the hospitalization numbers do not tell the whole story. Some cases in the official count involve COVID-19 infections that weren’t what put the patients in the hospital in the first place.

Dr. Fritz François, chief of hospital operations at NYU Langone Health in New York City, said about 65% of patients admitted to that system with COVID-19 recently were primarily hospitalized for something else and were incidentally found to have the virus.

This week, 36% of California hospitals reported critical staffing shortages. And 40% are expecting such shortages.

Some hospitals are reporting as much as one quarter of their staff out for virus-related reasons, said Kiyomi Burchill, the California Hospital Association’s vice president for policy and leader on pandemic matters.

In response, hospitals are turning to temporary staffing agencies or transferring patients out.

“We are drowning. We are exhausted,” said Sherri Dayton, a nurse at the Backus Plainfield Emergency Care Center.

– Ella Breedlove