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COVID hospitalizations triple as facilities grapple with staffing shortages

The number of COVID hospitalizations in Hawaii has tripled over the past two weeks.
Published: Dec. 27, 2021 at 3:39 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 28, 2021 at 6:46 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The number of COVID hospitalizations in Hawaii has tripled over the past two weeks ― at a time when nurses union is warning facilities are increasingly understaffed.

On Dec. 13, just 34 people were hospitalized with COVID statewide.

On Monday, that number stood at 100 ― and the Healthcare Association of Hawaii confirms 34 are vaccinated. At least 88 COVID patients, meanwhile, are on Oahu.

According to Lt. Gov. Josh Green, the majority of so-called “breakthrough infections” ending up in the hospital are people over the age of 60 with chronic disease who haven’t gotten their booster shot.

The most recent surge in new infections comes as hospitals struggle with a shortage of nurses.

“The big, big impact is staffing. We do not have enough staff,” said Daniel Ross, president of the Hawaii Nurses Association.

Ross said Hawaii’s nursing shortage is nothing, but it’s being exacerbated by a growing number of health care workers calling in sick. He added not everyone is catching COVID at work.

“The nurses are part of the community,” Ross said. “The nurses are also being quarantined, and getting COVID and being out.”

Green added, “It’s a concern because you’re seeing a ton of extra Omicron cases.”

There are currently close to 14,000 active infections across the state. The vast majority are on Oahu.

While Omicron symptoms are said to be less severe than the Delta variant, Green stressed “that may be the case if you’re fully vaccinated and boosted.”

“But if you’re not and you’re elderly those are the individuals ending up in the intensive care unit.”

Green says those who have been admitted despite getting both shots tend to be older and suffering from other pre-existing conditions.

He added many times their chance of survival is still better than someone who’s unvaccinated and hospitalized.

“We have seen this increase in hospitalizations and it’s going to continue to go up over the next two to four weeks,” he said. “But the best thing we can do is protect those who are most vulnerable and that’s people over the age of 60 who have not gotten their third shot. That’s the vulnerable group.”

Meanwhile, those tasked with taking care of patients admit current staffing shortages are leaving many feeling overworked and burnt out.

“Unfortunately, a lot of employers are resorting to mandatory overtime,” Ross said. “They can only physically do so much and they’re quitting.”

The Healthcare Association of Hawaii said it’s asked for 700 traveling personnel. The agency is still waiting for formal approval. The initial wave of workers would not arrive until at least Jan. 10.

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