DOVER — Hospitals across the state have seen a record volume in their emergency departments this week.
Dr. Ellie Salinski, Bayhealth’s assistant medical director of the Kent Campus emergency department, said around 150 individuals visited the emergency department on Monday. At one point, Dr. Salinski said, there were 111 patients physically in the emergency room, which is the most the hospital has ever seen.
The surge was anticipated due to increasing COVID-19 transmission rates post-Christmas and Dr. Salinski is concerned the virus will strain health systems even more in the upcoming weeks.
“It definitely will get worse,” she said. “Everyone got together for the holidays. I don’t know if everyone tested before they got together. I doubt many people were wearing masks. It’s just the reality of it. At this point, what we can do is deal with it as it comes day by day, hour by hour and try to care for the patients in our community. That makes it even more important moving forward, if we want to prevent further exponential spread of this virus in the community, we need to take personal responsibility for each and every one of ourselves to try to prevent the spread of infection.”
Kevin Snyder, vice president of marketing and communications at Bayhealth, said the situation has been exacerbated in the emergency department by individuals seeking testing or treatment for mildly symptomatic COVID-19.
He asks that patients only use the emergency department for serious illnesses or injuries, Those looking for COVID-19 testing should go to a testing site which can be found at either Curative.com or de.gov/gettested. Those feeling ill with mild symptoms should visit their primary care physician first.
Bayhealth has taken necessary steps to meet the high demand of patients, Mr. Synder said.
The hospital has created room for additional beds in previously designated areas of the hospital. Beds are in hallways and large storage closets while vending machines have been removed to allow for more space.
“Where can we create additional patient care areas? We’ve been flexing space up and down for the last two years,” Mr. Snyder said. “I know a lot of times people want to know, ‘What’s your capacity?’ We don’t want people to think they can’t get care. If they come in and are critically ill, we will find a way to care for them.”
Sussex County meanwhile recorded its highest total of COVID-19 hospitalizations of the pandemic with 124 Tuesday, according to the Delaware Division of Public Health’s daily update on Wednesday.
“Beebe Healthcare, along with hospitals throughout the state, have seen a significant increase in COVID hospitalizations since Thanksgiving,” said Beebe Healthcare chief population officer Dr. Bill Chasanov. “We are asking those who are eligible to please consider receiving COVID-19 and flu vaccines. COVID-19 vaccines continue to be an effective way to stop our family and friends from becoming moderately to severely ill with COVID and potentially ending up in the hospital or in the Intensive Care Unit.”
DPH reported 454 individuals hospitalized with the virus — 20 off of Delaware’s all-time high of 474 set Jan. 12. New Castle County has the most with 247 while there are 83 in Kent County.
A majority of new COVID-19 hospitalizations have continued to be unvaccinated, per DPH statistics.
For the week of Dec. 13-19, the most recent available data, 78% of those hospitalized with COVID-19 were not fully vaccinated against the virus. Dr. Salinski said Bayhealth’s percentage is even higher with 90% of its COVID-19 inpatients unvaccinated.
“Understand, vaccination is not a silver bullet,” Dr. Salinski said. “It is a layer of protection, (It) significantly mitigates the severity of the disease, prevents hospitalization and can make a difference between life and death.”
Dr. Salinski said she recently treated a woman in her 40s who needed to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 a month ago and asked if she was vaccinated.
“She said no because her husband got vaccinated and got COVID,” Dr. Salinski said. “Unfortunately she did not survive, but her husband did. It’s real and it does make a difference.”
The virus really hit home for Dr. Salinski this weekend when her mother, who is fully vaccinated, was hospitalized with the virus on Christmas Eve. But she never needed a ventilator and was discharged on Wednesday morning, Dr. Salinski said.
“I firmly believe that’s because she’s vaccinated. That’s the reason she got discharged so quickly,” Dr. Salinski said.
While Delawareans are tired of COVID-19, the virus isn’t going away, Dr. Salinski said.
“There’s this pandemic fatigue,” she said. “People want to spend time with their families, they want to travel and they want to resume their normal life. But we have to understand, unless we take these steps, it’s not going to make a difference. We’re not going to be able to fight this battle. Every person needs to do their part. We all have to take personal responsibility in terms of preventing further spread. That includes wearing masks regardless of whether or not you’re vaccinated, cleaning your hands, socially distancing and considering vaccination and/or boosting.”
The state is averaging 1,072.3 new cases of COVID-19 per day over the last seven days as DPH reported 1,071 cases in Wednesday’s update. New cases have been over the 1,000-mark five of the last seven days, including a record 1,581 in Friday’s report.
With the New Year’s Eve weekend approaching, Dr. Salinski encourages Delawareans to take the necessary precautions and avoid large crowds.
“I would strongly discourage public gatherings,” Dr. Salinski said. “Especially when there’s alcohol involved, it’s really easy to let down your guard, to let down your mask and not socially distance as you may if you were not under the influence. I think you’re really putting yourself at risk by doing any sort of New Year’s celebration in public. If you are going to celebrate with a small group of people, I strongly recommend that you get tested and are vaccinated before you do that.”