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SALT LAKE CITY — The surge in COVID-19 cases this summer has caused yet another strain on Utah's hospitals.
The University of Utah Hospital is now full, as caregivers try to manage the recent sharp increase in patients.
KSL-TV spoke with the chief medical operations officer at the hospital, who said the return of school-age children, who are not yet eligible to get vaccinated, to school over the next few weeks will only make the situation worse.
"The hospital is full, full, full. We have patients waiting in the emergency room for beds," said Dr. Russell Vinik.
Vinik said they only have a couple of open beds in the intensive care unit.
"We are barely keeping up," he said. "That's very different from how things were back last December, January, February, where we had enough staff to be able to open up an accessory ICU, and really be able to take care of a lot more people."
While hospital counts are still at a lower capacity than when COVID-19 cases peaked six months ago, this surge has been more difficult to manage, he said, because the hospital workforce is stressed, and some are leaving.
Like many employers, hospitals cannot hire all of the workers they need.
Last fall, Vinik said the hospital workforce was energized, but the ongoing virus has taken a toll on the caregivers.
"I do think it makes it harder for people to stay in the workforce and have that sense of commitment, when 98 percent of the patients they are taking care of our patients who could have prevented this by getting vaccinated, and that's a strain," said Vinik.
Utah communities are again asking doctors and nurses to battle the virus after they had glimpsed the light at the end of the tunnel.
We were all happy to be the heroes and put in the extra time, but that's something you can't sustain for a year and a half.
–Dr. Russell Vinik
"This has been 18 months, now," the doctor said, exasperated. "We were all happy to be the heroes and put in the extra time, but that's something you can't sustain for a year and a half."
Looking ahead, Vinik said, "Most of us who follow this are very convinced we will see a significant rise (in cases) after school starts."
Especially with kids not wearing masks and vaccination protection limited to those 12 and older.
"This will lead to massive outbreaks in schools, schools shutting down," Vinik said. "Then, their parents, who are our employees, won't be able to come to work."
Which is exactly what happened last fall.
"Now, we are faced with the potential for an even further reduced workforce, with more cases," said Vinik. "I worry that we're not going to be able to care for them."