Utah health officials concerned about hospitalizations heading into holiday weekend

Sep 4, 2021, 12:35 AM

SALT LAKE CITY — Health officials said they’re concerned heading into a holiday weekend after the state reported 503 people hospitalized with COVID-19.

Those updated numbers were released Friday by the Utah Department of Health.

“This is not a game. This isn’t a joke. This is serious life and death,” said Dr. Russell Vinik, chief medical operations officer at University of Utah Health.

A year and a half into the pandemic and the struggle continues for healthcare workers and their patients.

“I can honestly tell you, the last week or two has been, in many ways, the most difficult week or two we’ve faced during this pandemic,” said Vinik.

The doctor said, on top of the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases and patients, they’ve seen many hospital colleagues leave, including nurses, nurse assistants, respiratory therapists and environmental service workers.

Vinik said when their hospital ICU filled up last year, they were able to open a surge ICU, meaning they were able to convert another unit into an ICU, with 22 additional beds.

This year, hospitalizations are up again, and if comes to it, “we literally do not have the staff to open a surge ICU.”

That concern of caring for their patients is the concern he and others carry with them this holiday weekend, when more are expected to gather.

Vinik stressed the message Utahns have received for months: get vaccinated if you’re eligible and mask up in crowded areas, including in outdoor events, like football games, where you’re in a small area.

“That is a high risk of transmission,” he said. “Those types of things keep us in healthcare awake at night.”

Currently, at the University of Utah, Vinik said about 75% of their COVID patients are not vaccinated. Those who are, he said, are generally those with significant comorbidities and weakened immune systems.

Vinik said if Utahns will get the shot and mask up, healthcare workers won’t have to worry about not having enough staff to care for patients.

“We don’t want to be doing this. We want to have ample opportunity to care for all of our patients, but patients are having to wait,” he said.

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Utah health officials concerned about hospitalizations heading into holiday weekend