Delaware hospital leaders urge vaccinations

National Guard members training for alternative health sites

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WILMINGTON — Amid rising COVID-19 case rates, Delaware’s hospital leaders are asking the public for help to reduce the burden on health care systems.

ChristianaCare System Chief Operating Officer Dr. Sharon Kurfuerst said hospitals’ ability to provide care is threatened, as their volume of patients continues to increase. Dr. Kurfuerst added that there is an even greater concern regarding the post-holiday period, when the state foresees a potential spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations, while the peak of flu season is also to begin.

“We want to be there for our community, providing efficient care without delays and without extended wait times,” she said Tuesday. “But right now, in our hospitals throughout the state, this is a balancing act for us every single day. There’s definitely a plea for help to take the burden off the health care systems and our health care workers.”

During the state’s press briefing Tuesday, Dr. Kurfuerst, Gov. John Carney and Dr. David Tam, CEO and president of Beebe Healthcare, pleaded with Delawareans to get vaccinated if they have not done so and to receive a booster if they are eligible.

Seventy-one percent (125 of 176) of new COVID-19 hospitalizations for the week of Dec. 6-12, the most recent available data, were not fully vaccinated, according to statistics via the Delaware Division of Public Health.

“It is distressing to see folks who are sick who could be well with a simple preventative measure,” Dr. Kurfuerst said. “From a community standpoint, we’re really asking that each and every Delawarean gets vaccinated. If you’ve been fully vaccinated, get your booster as soon as you’re able to do that.”

There were 390 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Monday at 6 p.m., with 49 cases considered critical, DPH said. Delaware went above 400 COVID-19 hospitalizations last weekend for the first time since Jan. 22. The all-time high is 474, while the low of 14 occurred June 26.

The state is nearing 1,800 total hospitalizations, which includes non-COVID-19-related ailments, as hospitals have been operating above capacity at times. The 1,800 does not count patients in emergency departments, which typically include a couple hundred more, Dr. Kurfuerst said.

“Our beds are full,” she said. “We are frequently running over 100% capacity, often at 110% or 115% capacity. Our emergency departments are incredibly busy. They are very crowded. Patients are waiting longer than usual to receive care because of the amount of patients that are arriving. There are patients receiving care in hallways because that’s the only place we can put them.”

Dr. Tam said Beebe has doubled its amount of COVID-19 inpatients since Thanksgiving.

As a result of the uptick in those patients, all Delaware hospitals have postponed elective surgeries. Dr. Tam pointed out that elective surgeries entail more than just plastic surgery or unnecessary procedures.

“Please know this means (that) if you have emergency surgery needs, you get in, and we take care of you,” he said. “But if you have a surgery that is still necessary for your well-being, we now have to make a determination of whether we do that today, tomorrow or in a week. That could be someone with a really bad hip or knee disease who is hurting and now has to wait to get a hip or knee replacement or somebody else who now has to wait for a colonoscopy or some other procedure that might affect their health care.”

Additionally, the state is in the process of training National Guard members to work as certified nursing assistants to fight back against the surge of hospitalizations.

It hopes to have 50 members ready by mid-January to alleviate some of the strain on hospital systems by setting up alternative care sites. Gov. Carney said this operation will enable the state to move patients who cannot be released from hospitals but don’t necessarily have serious health conditions.

Despite the surge, Gov. Carney said Delaware will not look to reestablish a statewide indoor mask mandate or state of emergency at this time, though he strongly advised residents to wear face coverings indoors over the winter.

“Our objective is to have voluntary compliance there,” he said.

Delaware averaged 748.1 new cases of COVID-19 a day over the last week, with 533 reported by DPH in Tuesday’s update. DPH also announced seven new COVID-19-related deaths Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 2,249.

Six of the seven deaths were unvaccinated individuals, DPH said. They ranged in age from 36 to 88.