February 4, 2023

Health care workers are worried about the COVID surge. They think you should be, too

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Surging COVID numbers in Hawaii have led to both dire predictions and complaints that the threat is being overblown.

So what are health care workers thinking? They say they’re worried ― and that the public should be concerned as well.

They’re also hopeful that vaccinations and a less severe variant could reduce the risk.

“We are seeing an increased number of admissions and we are concerned,” said Michael Rembis, the CEO and hospital administrator for Maui Health.

Maui Memorial hospital executives said one of their biggest concerns is staffing. They’re in a good place right now, but don’t know if that will be the case for long.

“We are seeing some of our health care workers calling us and saying they have symptoms and they need to stay home,” said Rembis. “We’re already seeing it start to impact our staffing capabilities.”

At a news conference Wednesday, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said he didn’t believe the illness was as severe as some news reports make it seem.

“So these are not my words, but this is from the CDC and an actual UHERO (UH Economic Research Organization) report that they published,” said Blangiardi.

“It says Omicron appears to be less virulent. It’s presenting itself like the flu.”

Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, agreed that the evidence suggests Omicron is less virulent overall.

“However, it’s not less virulent for everyone,” he said. “And so we are seeing a number of individuals in our hospitals every single day because of the coronavirus, and some of those are in our ICUs.”

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said it’s likely the state will hit a peak in case counts in mid-January and a peak in hospitalizations 10 days afterward.

As of Thursday morning, he said, there are 139 people in the hospital with COVID.

“Get a booster, you will not end up in the hospital,” Green said. “No one who had been fully boosted was in the intensive care unit. So you can prevent severe illness by being fully vaccinated.”

Green added that the state is working on the contract to have the additional 700 mainland hospital workers come. But facilities are worried the holiday weekend will put them over the edge.

“If people aren’t careful during the holidays, we’re going to go back to where we were from the beginning,” said Gaylynn Ledda-Camara, a nurse in Kaiser Permanente’s Emergency Department.

“No beds, no staff, so you have to remember staff are human too.”

Ledda-Camara said she takes comfort knowing that she is fully vaccinated and that the Omicron variant is less severe than other strains, but no one knows how their body will react to the virus.

“There are so many factors going into this,” Ledda-Camara said.

“Health conditions, underlying health conditions. And, you don’t know your body’s reaction, your mother’s reaction, your father’s reaction is going to be until they get ill.”

“Whether it’s Omicron, whether it’s Delta, it doesn’t matter what there is,” Raethel added. “It can still result in severe, severe disease and a significant length of stay in the hospital.”

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