Local frontline workers urge vaccines to head off new surge

Frontline workers on Monday morning urged local people who aren’t vaccinated yet against COVID-19 to get immunized to protect themselves and hospital capacity, as the Delta variant becomes more prevalent in Ohio.

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions have all been climbing over the last few weeks and some COVID-19 units that had been taken down have been opened back up.

In Ohio, there were around 494 people recorded hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Monday, doubled from about two weeks ago.

“We’ve already opened up a second hallway for us,” Lindsey Call, ICU nurse with Miami Valley Hospital, said. “We’re on the verge of opening a third. So that just tells you the increase in numbers just in this past week or two.

Call and other speakers shared as part of a press conference Monday morning by Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association to discuss the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in the Dayton region.

Jennifer Lutz, emergency department nurse and educator at Mercy Health Urbana Hospital, last winter had COVID-19, was treated in critical care, and was off work a total of 10 weeks.

“I have a passion about people getting vaccinated. I know that if there would have been a vaccine available prior to December of last year, I would have received it,” Lutz said. “It makes critical differences in people’s lives. People don’t want to be as sick as I was.”

The Delta variant has been exponentially taking off because it spreads more easily to more people.

“That means more unvaccinated people will get infected even with casual contact, because it is more contagious,” said Dr. Median Ali, ICU director at Sycamore Medical Center in Miamisburg.

A little under 49% of Ohioans have at least one vaccine dose, including more than 80% of those 65 and older. The vaccination rate ranges widely from community to community.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, which includes the Dayton VA Medical Center, announced Monday it will require frontline health care workers to be vaccinated within about eight weeks.

Also, Ohioans covered with Medicaid had previously been eligible for a $50 gift card for getting vaccinated, but on Monday the insurers who managed these plans upped that to $100 for any Medicaid member who receives the first shot between now and Sept. 15. About 1 in 4 people in the Miami Valley are covered by Medicaid.

With the time it takes to either slow down or fuel new cases, decisions made now will set the stage for how much community spread there is when kids return to the classroom.

Rev. Vanessa Ward, president of the Omega Community Development Corp., which partners to work with Dayton Public Schools students, said it is important for more people to get vaccinated and make a safe space for educators, who are worn out.

“I think we stand the risk of really losing another year of education with Black and brown children, who are already so far behind,” Ward said.

Ward said she can’t imagine the trauma children will face if they are not able to go back to normalcy.

Many of the health care workers who are treating patients with COVID-19 now are the same people who had to deal with the winter surge, when at times 1 in 3 hospital patients had COVID-19, even with large increases in total bed counts.

Call said that workers couldn’t mentally or physically prepare for what they went through in the winter, and in the worst of it, each day they would have to do CPR on four to five patients each 12 hour shift. Call said that she and her coworkers have just gotten to a point where they’ve been able to talk about everything they went through this past year.

“Last year we didn’t have anything to help us during this time, But we do now. We have a vaccine that’s available, that our community can get, and it has an extremely high success rate. It’s effective against the variant,” Call said.

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