By SAM METZ AP / Report for America
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Hospitals throughout Nevada are facing twin challenges as beds fill with COVID-19 patients and staff falls ill from the highly contagious omicron variant.
The Nevada Hospital Association in a report published Wednesday said COVID-19 hospitalizations were increasing in five of Nevada’s 17 counties, including Clark and Washoe, the state’s most populous.
“Nevada is experiencing an abrupt increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations, predominantly in the southern region following the holidays. People are flocking to hospital emergency departments seeking COVID-19 testing, compounding the staffing problem,” they said, describing the second week of January.
The strain and pleas for state support mirror problems facing rural and urban hospitals nationwide. From California to Alabama, hospitals are confronting staff shortages and people showing up at emergency rooms in large numbers to get tested rather than to seek treatment.
“Hospitals are not over-run by a COVID-19 surge as much as being understaffed as employees in all fields report being sick and unable to work. This is also further compounded by a significant increase in people coming to the emergency department solely for testing. Hospitals are not testing sites,” the Nevada Hospital Association said.
In rural Nevada, hospitals are once again finding it difficult to fill clinical staff positions as nurses and technicians leave for traveling positions with higher hourly rates, they added.
Hospitalizations have steadily risen in Nevada and 1,326 patients with confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19 now occupy hospital beds — almost double two weeks prior. Nevada’s test positivity rate — as measured using a 14-day moving average — has risen from 7.5% at the start of December to 23.5% on Thursday.
The omicron variant spreads more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus. However, early studies show omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant, and vaccination and a booster still offer strong protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death.
Amid the surge, the Nevada Department of Corrections announced Thursday that they would temporarily suspend inmate visitation. The prison system has reported 6,260 unique COVID-19 cases, including 4,437 from inmates and 995 from staff.
Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.