“I would honestly say it’s at least three times worse than what it was the first time,” nurse Kerri Eklund, from Baptist Health Hardin, in Elizabethtown, told ABC News. “We’re seeing a lot of people getting really sick. There are patients that will come in and they’ll be doing okay for a few days and then, in the blink of an eye, they go downhill.” More than 400 members of the Kentucky National Guard, as well as strike teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s emergency medical services, have now been deployed to help struggling hospitals across the state. The current wave of infections caught many health care workers by surprise, added Heather Brock, another nurse at Baptist Health Hardin. Earlier this year, with vaccinations available, there was a sense that things would return to normal. However, nearly nine months into the country’s vaccination rollout, and less than 50% of Kentucky’s total population has been fully vaccinated.
Last week, Kentucky reported more than 30,000 new cases, according to Gov. Andy Beshear, a weekly record since the onset of the pandemic. Statewide, there are more than 2,600 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 — the highest on record, and currently, just 7% of intensive care beds remain available. At the state’s previous peak last December, there were 1,000 fewer patients hospitalized.
“Our hospital situation has never been more dire in my lifetime than it is right now,” Beshear said. “We cannot handle more sick individuals.” “We walk into the hospital and it feels like the world is on fire,” Dr. Karan Singh, a pulmonologist at Med Center Health in Bowling Green, Kentucky, told ABC News.
“The patients who are vaccinated are doing a lot better,” said Eklund. In fact, “patients who are vaccinated, most of the time don’t even need oxygen, and they’re just here because they have a few of the other complications and they’re monitored. Most of the patients who end up going downhill, unfortunately, have not been vaccinated.” Many patients the teams are treating remain in the intensive care unit for weeks at a time, said Baptist Health Hardin nurse Clara Robertson, while “suffering and struggling for breath, that entire time. And then a lot of times, unfortunately, losing that battle, and dying.” Across Kentucky, state data shows that 91.6% of COVID-19 related hospitalizations between March 1, and Aug. 31, have been among partially or unvaccinated residents.
Front-line health workers said that the situation escalated quickly, after a short period of relief earlier this summer, and nearly all patients have been unvaccinated. “I wasn’t expecting this much of a surge again. In my opinion, it’s worse than the previous ones,” Brock said.
The News Highlights
- ‘The World is on Fire’: Exhausted Kentucky Health Workers Amid the Latest Wave of COVID-19
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