Story Produced by New Hampshire Bulletin
The team from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health did not mince words Wednesday while pleading with the unvaccinated to get vaccinated. And those pleas were intentionally timed.
New Hampshire leads the nation in new daily COVID-19 cases, and its record high 462 COVID hospitalizations has led to a record low number of open hospital beds. On Wednesday, there were no available ICU beds among the six hospitals in the southwestern part of the state.
“I want to emphasize that COVID-19 doesn’t really care who you are, what political party you belong to, where you get your news, and where your social media is,” said Dr. Edward Merrens, chief clinical officer at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health. He added, “We want people to see this is not a political issue. It is not anything other than an important public health issue.”
State epidemiologist Dr. Ben Chan reported Wednesday that 40 people have died of COVID-19 in the past week and that the state is averaging 1,200 to 1,300 new infections a day.
The hospital network’s leadership team has used its virtual platform throughout the pandemic to explain the benefits, safety, and efficacy of the vaccine, and share advice for overcoming the challenges of remote learning and working on the front lines of the pandemic. The state’s new grim milestones in hospitalization and new cases – and its lagging vaccination rate, which stands at less than 65 percent – brought a more direct and dire message Wednesday.
Forty-two percent of the state’s ICU beds, of which few remain open, are occupied by COVID-19 patients, and 85 percent of them are unvaccinated, said Dr. Michael Calderwood, chief quality officer at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
Numbers, though, don’t convey the crisis, they said.
Young COVID-19 patients are on ventilators. Staff are intubating people in emergency rooms because they won’t survive the wait for a hospital room. The virus killed 140 people in New Hampshire during November alone. New London Hospital’s ambulances are traveling farther than ever – even to Rhode Island – to find its patients a hospital bed. COVID-19 patients who survive an ICU can remain hospitalized for weeks with lung injuries and other complications. And those who are unvaccinated are 14 times more likely to die.
“I think what we want people to see is what a number of us see,” Merrens said. “What we want to communicate is that we do not need to be taking care of those patients if they are vaccinated.”
Dr. Joanne Conroy, president and CEO of Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, said the choice by so many in the state not to be vaccinated is taking a toll on health care workers.
“Despite the best evidence that vaccines and boosters have been shown to reduce the severity of illness, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID, too many people are still refusing to get the vaccine,” she said “And they spread (inaccurate) information about it. That needs to stop today.”
The state’s progress in vaccinating more people has been difficult to track because some booster doses are being counted in the rates reported by the state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And that discrepancy is going to grow given the massive interest in the state’s plan to give 12,000 boosters on Saturday alone.
At his weekly COVID-19 update Wednesday, Gov. Chris Sununu announced FEMA will provide the state 24 to 36 health care workers, the first of them arriving at Elliot Hospital this weekend. He confirmed 70 National Guard troops will help with “back end” work like food service and clerical tasks to fill staffing gaps. FEMA is also sending the state 2,000 doses of monoclonal antibodies, Sununu said.
He pushed back when asked about re-instituting a mask mandate, saying doing so would “effectively penalize a good portion of the state that has done right by getting the vaccine.”
Story reproduced with permission under New Hampshire Bulletin’s Creative Commons license.