Utah hospitals filling with COVID-19 patients, turning away ambulances

Jan 6, 2022, 5:16 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 6:57 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Doctors and nurses on the front line of the COVID-19 crisis said the Omicron variant is filling Utah hospitals, forcing them to treat the sickest first.  

A panel of medical experts Thursday shared their concerns about a rising wave of patients overloading the state’s hospitals.  

Hospitals are struggling to provide care because their staffs are depleted. 

“It is a dire time for all of us, for our healthcare teams, in particular, to stand in this space again,” said Tracey Nixon, RN, chief nursing officer at University of Utah Health. 

For two straight days, Utah has shattered records for new COVID-19 cases, and those numbers are projected to keep climbing.  

Even if Omicron is not as severe as Delta, caregivers said Omicron patients are still filling hospitals. 

“In this moment in time, I’m already dramatically understaffed, and now with the increase in staff out due to Covid-related reasons, I am unable to care for the patients that we need to,” Nixon said. 

Staffing is so depleted on some shifts she said that others don’t want to come to work. 

“They’re afraid to be here because they know we do not have the staff available to care for the patients in the way they need,” the chief nursing officer said. 

She shared an example of the depletion of their staff from earlier this week. 

“I had three nurses leave because they can’t do this again,” Nixon said. “They feel like we’re going backwards.” 

For six hours last night, the emergency department at University of Utah Hospital turned away ambulances because they were overwhelmed. 

“They are caring for more patients, especially patients needing critical care with less staff than ever because they’re out sick or have simply given all that they can possibly give,” said Dr. Michelle Hofmann, deputy director of the Utah Department of Health. 

They’re feeling the pandemic fatigue that’s spreading, but more intensely than most of us, said Dr. Arlen Jarrett, chief medical officer of Steward Healthcare. 

“There’s no one that is more acutely affected by this fatigue than our frontline workers in the hospital,” Jarrett said. 

They are again asking for help from the public to contain this variant. 

“The Omicron surge is upon us. It’s building up to be far beyond anything we’ve seen so far with this pandemic,” Jarrett said. 

Monoclonal antibodies, an effective treatment for those who are sick, are in short supply. Fortunately, there is ample supply of vaccine, which the panelists encourage for everyone who is eligible. 

Gov. Spencer Cox issued an urgent plea Thursday morning, calling on all Utahns to get vaccinated. 

Coronavirus Resources

Have you or a family member been affected by coronavirus issues in Utah? KSL wants to hear from you. Contact KSL by emailing

Click here to sign up for a vaccine and here to see how Utah’s vaccine rollout is progressing.

The latest COVID-19 stories from KSL can be found here.

How do I prevent it?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

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Utah hospitals filling with COVID-19 patients, turning away ambulances