Hospitals across Gulf Coast brace for Hurricane Ida amid COVID-19 delta surge

U.S.

CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Hospitals across the southeast are bracing for public health emergencies on two fronts as Hurricane Ida threatens to strike at the same time some states along the Gulf Coast are experiencing a surge in coronavirus delta variant cases.

From New Orleans to Oregon, the increase in COVID-19 cases is pushing hospitals and ambulances services to the max as intensive care units reach their limits. 

More than 100,000 COVID-19 patients nationwide are in ICUs, forcing companies like LifeFlight Eagle to provide air ambulance services for patients in dire need.

“They’re seeing really sick patients, and it’s exhausting mentally and physically,” said Joey Araiza, LifeFlight Eagle’s vice-president of clinical services.

The storm is targeting the Gulf Coast, including Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The storm is expected to bring winds as high as 130 mph when it slams ashore Sunday afternoon — along with dangerous coastal storm surges and flooding rains.

As Ida prepares to make landfall, hospitals are forced to decide which patients need treatment now and which patients need to find care elsewhere.

In Florida, the hospitalization rate has nearly tripled in the last month. As a result, emergency rooms are now putting up tents for patient drop-offs to deal with the increase, all as Hurricane Ida approaches.

“All these facilities are just full and it’s heartbreaking that these patients can’t get to where they need sometimes,” Araiza said.

In New Orleans, ICUs are being pushed to the limit; 84% of ICU beds are full as Hurricane Ida approaches.

Many patients admit they’re unvaccinated, with less than 65% of the city’s total population receiving at least one dose.

In Alabama — a bleaker picture — according to the Alabama Hospital Association and the state’s department of public health, there were negative 29 intensive care unit beds available on Wednesday night, meaning 29 more patients needed ICU care than there were beds available.

In Mississippi, the state’s top public health official says no ICU beds are available in about 20 of the state’s top-level hospitals. 

Medical experts say the delta variant is even affecting states as far out as Kansas.

“We’re turning down three-quarters of the transfer requests we have. We usually accept three-quarters or two-thirds, but we can’t because we just don’t have the bed capacity to do that right. so that’s a concern,” said Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System.

The delta variant is also more likely to cause serious illness in unvaccinated individuals, including children.

Now doctors are hoping the full FDA approval of Pzifer’s vaccine will encourage vaccine-hesitant people to get the shot and stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, as the threat of massive storms continues, hospitals are now scrambling to develop evacuation plans if the hurricane directly hits them.

In addition to personal protection equipment, the medical crews will also have to wear hurricane gear to protect them from heavy rain if matters get worse. 

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