The year started off with a bang as someone tweeted about how the COVID-19 cases at Santa Rita Jail (California) had increased by 1250% overnight, with outbreaks among both the staff and incarcerated people. And then three nights later, the number of inmate new cases increased by another 453% — and this was not unusual or atypical among such institutions.
The New York Times reported that nationwide, during the previous three weeks, the seven-day average of newly identified cases had tripled. Under-reporting was already a problem, as more people used home test kits whose results were not recorded in official databases. Of course, numerous Americans with mild or symptomless cases were not counted in any statistics.
The Mayo Clinic fired 700 employees who refused to be vaccinated, which sounds like a lot, but the number actually comprised only less than 2% of Mayo’s vast number of employees. Some hospitals were asking nurses and other staff, who were already severely underworked, to volunteer even more time.
Moral confusion, emotional pain
In many hospitals, there was uneasy discussion of the dreaded T-word — triage. What happens when the hospital only has five ventilators, but 20 patients need them? They can’t be shared. What happens when people with other life-threatening illnesses need the beds occupied by COVID sufferers?
On a battlefield, the traditional rules of triage are well-established and unquestioned. In a public general hospital, not so much. We will not discuss it here, as such debates about which patients should be treated, and which should be left to fate, can become bitter and divisive. It worsens an already desperate situation, even before the lawyers get involved.
“Fairness,” a significant factor in every area of public life, becomes a battle cry. The key point of triage is to utilize scarce resources on those with the best odds of being saved. But this downgrades the chances for people with pre-existing conditions. And, whether or not vindictive emotion is behind the claim, many people believe that those who remain willfully unvaccinated should go to the end of the treatment line.
Joseph Goldstein wrote in The New York Times,
More than 15,000 people with Covid-19 have been hospitalized in the city in the past four weeks, the most since the initial surge. About half of all patients in the city’s hospitals now have Covid-19.
The journalist visited a Brooklyn hospital’s COVID-19 ward and found patients “crammed into every corner.” Thirty-six very sick humans were being cared for by only two nurses, which not only cruelly overburdens the nurses, but is dangerous for the patients. Many hospitals are lucky if even a skeleton crew is on hand, any day of the week. At that particular one, on that particular shift, the Emergency Room had enough doctors but nowhere near enough nurses. The doctor in charge said, “During the first wave we were able-bodied, but now we’re exhausted and many are ill.”
Meanwhile, the country experienced mass confusion over such matters as the difference between isolation and quarantine. The new CDC guidelines were deemed contradictory, already outdated, frustratingly unclear, or impossible. One headline called them a “dumpster fire.”
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Source: “Anthony Fauci Is Right To Distinguish COVID-19 Infections, Which Are Exploding, From Severe Disease, Which Is Not,” Reason.com, 01/02/22
Source: “As Omicron Overwhelms Hospitals, We Must Talk About Triage,” WashingtonPost.com, 01/05/22
Source: “What the Omicron Wave Looks Like at One Brooklyn E.R,” NYTimes.com, 01/15/22
Source: “America’s COVID Rules Are a Dumpster Fire,” TheAtlantic.com, 01/06/22
Image by Jernej Furman/CC BY 2.0