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Overburdened Maryland hospitals urge vaccinations, mask wearing amid surge

As COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations in Maryland continue to soar at levels previously unseen, hospitals are imploring Marylanders to help them accommodate the surge in patients by getting vaccinated, continuing to wear masks and avoiding emergency rooms unless necessary. 

The highly transmissible omicron variant of the virus is fueling the current surge. As of Tuesday morning, 3,452 COVID-19 patients were reported to be in Maryland’s hospitals, including 544 adults and four children in intensive care unit beds.

That number is an increase of 1,500 from the state’s pre-omicron peak for hospitalizations, set a year ago on Jan. 11, 2021, and represents approximately 94% of available beds in the state, according to Bob Atlas, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association.

“Hospitals are virtually full,” Atlas said in an email to The Daily Record. 

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While some states’ hospitals have reported that many of their COVID-19 patients are actually being admitted to the hospital for an unrelated reason — a car accident or heart attack, for example — and testing positive for COVID-19 upon arrival, that doesn’t seem to be as common in Maryland, Atlas said. 

“It is true that some patients who presented with other serious medical conditions also tested positive for COVID,” he said. “With the current surge of COVID-positive inpatients nearing 3,500, we understand that most have been admitted with COVID as their primary diagnosis.” 

The state’s daily new case count also hit a new record on Jan. 9, with 17,252 new cases being reported, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. 

Hospitals are being stretched thin by this surge, especially as hospital staffers continue to leave their jobs due to burnout, other jobs offers and contracting COVID-19 themselves, according to a Tuesday news release distributed by the Maryland Hospital Association.

Fourteen hospitals across the state have implemented crisis standards of care protocols, which outline how resources are to be allocated when demand for care is too high for a hospital to manage under normal operations.  

Because of this, hospitals are asking Marylanders to be as cautious as possible to avoid becoming a part of the current COVID-19 surge. This means taking steps such as wearing a mask in public, social distancing, keeping up with hand washing and self-isolating if sick with COVID-19.

For Marylanders who are currently unvaccinated or haven’t received a booster shot, MHA highly recommends doing so, noting that unvaccinated people make up as much as 84% of COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

Additionally, the hospital association asks that people do not come to emergency rooms, which are currently overburdened by COVID-19 patients, with anything other than “life- or limb-threatening needs.” MHA recommends seeing a primary care doctor or an urgent care center, or utilizing telehealth, for minor conditions.  

A similar news release was put out Tuesday afternoon by health officials on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, include the emergency medical services departments of Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties; the chief clinical officer of Choptank Community Health; and the chief medical officer of University of Maryland Shore Regional Health. 

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The officials said that the region has been struggling with higher-than-ever case counts and hospitalizations over the past two weeks, and they asked the region’s residents to take precautions against the virus’s spread and avoid calling 911 for non-emergencies. 

“We need help from the community to best utilize our limited health care resources. Look for alternative testing opportunities, treat your mild symptoms at home, and do what you can to slow the spread.” says Megan Woytko, chief clinical officer of Choptank Health, which operates eight locations on the Eastern Shore. “The more we can provide primary care services, the more we can keep patients out of the (emergency department) and better support our hospitals.”