Monterey County hospitals respond to omicron surge

Faced with a dual threat of climbing COVID-19 hospitalizations and an uptick in staffing shortages, Monterey County hospitals released a joint statement on Friday detailing their response to the highly transmissible omicron variant, warning of changes to patient visitation policies and potential postponement of surgeries that aren’t time sensitive.

Over the past 10 days, COVID-19 hospitalizations in Monterey County have more than doubled from 28 on Dec. 28 to 62 on Friday, a level not seen since last February. This, on top of a growing number of hospital personnel being sent home to isolate, has prompted Monterey County hospitals to take extra precautions in the hopes of curbing setbacks before they can happen.

“Omicron is spreading at an intensely rapid pace,” said Pete Delgado, president/CEO of the Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System. “That is something we are not going to avoid. What we hope to prevent is a situation where hospital staffing is stretched so thin that the high quality of care we provide runs the risk of being compromised.”

The Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System reported 22 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Friday, with 4% of staff out on isolation protocols. The hospital has assured vigilance in light of the heightened figures, including an ongoing one visitor per patient per day policy. Salinas Valley Memorial, like all Monterey County hospitals, will also continue to prohibit all visitors to emergency departments, barring exceptions for a parent/guardian of a minor under the age of 18 or a caregiver/support person for patients with physical, intellectual, cognitive impairment and/or developmental disabilities, according to Friday’s joint statement.

A total of 66% of Salinas Valley Memorial’s eligible staff have received a COVID-19 booster. The remaining 34% have until Feb. 1 to receive their shot per a state mandate that all health care workers in California eligible for the booster must do so by that deadline. To encourage the third dose, Salinas Valley Memorial is holding daily booster clinics for the Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines on-site for staff.

The Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula does not yet have data on the percentage of boosted staff but plans to work with employees to ensure compliance by Feb 1, according to Montage Health spokeswoman Monica Sciuto.

Like Salinas Valley Memorial, Community Hospital is feeling the weight of swelling case rates once again. This week, the hospital had 34 admitted patients who tested positive for COVID-19, Sciuto said. During the last surge from late December 2020 to January 2021, the hospital saw a peak of 52 positive cases admitted in one week. Though numbers have not yet reached those of the year prior, Sciuto explained figures are rising.

What is higher now than in the last surge, Sciuto continued, is the hospital’s positivity rate among everyone tested at the site whether or not they are admitted, including emergency room visits. The latest data puts the hospital’s positivity rate at 22%, compared to a peak of 20% in January 2021. Meanwhile, 2% of the Community Hospital’s workforce, or 60 employees, were out due to COVID-19 as of Friday.

In response, the Community Hospital is now limiting its allotted number of visitors to one per patient per day, instead of its previously allowed two.

Elsewhere, the visitor policy at Natividad hospital remains unchanged, which allows for no more than two designated visitors for the duration of a patient’s hospitalization, according to hospital spokeswoman Hillary Fish. That policy may shift, however, as all hospitals are currently reviewing their visitation policies as needed to further protect patients, staff, visitors and the community.

Natividad reported having 16 COVID-19 patients on Friday. As for staff shortages, approximately 6% of the hospital’s staff were out due to documented COVID-19 related reasons, said Natividad assistant administrator Janine Bouyea.

Beyond individual policy and procedure changes, Monterey County hospitals cautioned in Friday’s joint statement that capacities for conducting a full surgery schedule are being evaluated and that non-time-sensitive procedures may be rescheduled, similar to modifications made at the start of the pandemic.

Hospitals also reminded community members that those with mild symptoms of COVID-19 — sore throat, fever, runny nose, body aches and cough — should seek care through their primary care doctor and recover from illness at home. Severe COVID-19 symptoms that require emergency care include chest pain, difficulty breathing, weakness and a fever for several days. During this latest surge, hospitals have also urged anyone experiencing a medical emergency of any nature to continue to call 911 or seek emergency care.

To keep hospitalizations down and alleviate pressure, health care leaders encourage those eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine or a booster shot.

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