Richmond area hospital staff ‘in crisis’ as many have no choice but to work while COVID positive

Published: Jan. 11, 2022 at 6:55 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A surge of over 3,600 hospitalizations in Virginia led Governor Ralph Northam to declare a state of emergency on January 10. Now, a day later, Richmond health officials and Mayor Levar Stoney are sounding the alarm.

They say if hospitals in the area are strained any further, the situation could prove disastrous.

Dr. Danny Avula with the Richmond-Henrico Health District says, with the crisis we’re in, elective surgeries and other health procedures at the hospital are starting to take a backseat. This all ties back to staffing shortages and a need to have hands on deck in ICUs.

“As I’ve talked to my colleagues in the healthcare systems here in the Richmond region. All of them are struggling. They’re in crisis,” Dr. Avula said. “As for staffing, they’re seeing their hospital wards filled up. The emergency rooms are full of people trying to come and get treated or to get tested.”

This comes on top of a staffing shortage that was already plaguing health systems.

Now, per CDC guidelines, hospital staff are being allowed to come to work while COVID positive, as long as they wear PPE and only have mild symptoms or remain asymptomatic.

“The Omicron variant is so contagious that we’re just seeing it spread like wildfire and everybody’s going to be impacted by it in some way,” Dr. Avula said.

A lot of COVID positive staff are working in the COVID wards to bunch them together so that they are not exposing other areas of the hospital.

Due to the contagious nature of Omicron, Dr. Avula says we might need to change the lens in which we measure the surge.

“I no longer think that cases are the primary metric that we need to be concerned about. I think that looking at severe disease, hospitalization and death, and then right now what we’re looking at is hospital capacity,” Dr. Avula said. “That’s why we’re really asking people to take this seriously because our hospitals are dangerously close to being overrun.”

That leaves less room to treat other patients in need of care.

“I think folks forget that it’s just our hospitals deal with more than just COVID-19, they are dealing with folks who walk in there who are having surgeries and other procedures,” Mayor Levar Stoney said. “If the system gets overrun with COVID-19 cases, we can’t see those who might be in critical condition due to other circumstances.”

If you need to get a COVID-19 test or start having mild symptoms, doctors are advising to not go to a hospital. Instead, sign up for an appointment at one of the testing events and sites here.

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