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Strain on CGH facilities has increased in last two weeks

Medical center’s CEO takes part in Q&A in Facebook Live

In a screengrab, Dr. Bill Bird conducts a public-facing video conference with CGH Medical Center CEO Dr. Paul Steinke about the strain the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has brought to healthcare facilities.

STERLING – CGH Medical Center CEO Dr. Paul Steinke said the strain on healthcare facilities brought on by the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus has begun to hit home.

According to the Jan. 3 report to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CGH was using 67 of 85 inpatient beds and 15 of 18 intensive care units.

“Last week or two, we’ve seen things change more dramatically,” said Steinke, who made an appearance on the weekly Facebook live hosted by the hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. Bill Bird.

“Our ability to test people is strained and limited. Our ability to see everyone with COVID is strained and limited,” he said.

Bird said the latest trend data showed most COVID-19 cases in the upper Midwest region are the Omicron variant.

The patient load is being felt by medical staff.

“People are tired and burned out yet they show up for work and they show up with heart and compassion and keep doing it,” Steinke said. “Community owes them a great debt.”

But, Steinke took a positive note during the Q&A session. He observed that the virus — by mutating into more communicable but less potent forms — is following an expected path.

“I think we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Steinke said. “It’s going the way that pandemics go.”

He also said the situation is different from the previous surge that taxed hospital resources in 2020. Then, there was the challenge of having enough personal protective equipment and not having proven treatments.

Staffing is a bigger challenge now. People have dropped out of the workforce. While this time there is a supply of PPE and, in his experience, “vaccines have proven their worth.”

He intimated that generally, persons who are unvaccinated have more severe symptoms.

“We see a very distinct difference with those who have been vaccinated and boosted and those who have not been,” Steinke said.

In the meantime, the burden on the emergency rooms can be mitigated in how people evaluate their own symptoms before reaching out to care facilities, Steinke said. This is because the severity of the Omicron variant is on a spectrum.

He says entire families have shown up to the ER with mild symptoms. He understands their concern, but the priority in the ER is to save people near to dying.

People with mild symptoms, such as low-grade fever, should self-treat as with any viral infection: stay home, get rest, push fluids.

“Do all the things mom used to do to take care of you,” Steinke said.

People with more moderate or significant symptoms should avail themselves of appointments at CGH’s Ready Care or satellite facilities in the region. The personnel at those facilities have gotten good at diagnosing whether the COVID case requires elevated levels of treatment, he said.

Bird asked about the status of monoclonal antibody infusions as a treatment. Steinke said they are not as effective as they once were. “This is changing our treatment,” he said. He said there is a new antibody, but supplies are limited.

Patients have to be evaluated if the antibody treatment is a good fit. Underlying conditions, risk factors and the patient’s other medications have to be taken into account.

On other topics

Visitation policy. Unchanged. Goal is to limit visits to a single support person or caretaker per patient.

Over-the-counter antigen tests. Bird said tests are reliable for confirming those with symptoms. But a person with symptoms who tests negative shouldn’t rely solely on the results. Repeat the test in a couple of days, he advised.

Preventative services. Be diligent about screening, especially for diabetes and heart disease, even if a care facility or primary care physician cannot see you immediately because of the surge. Be sure to follow up. They are seeing in cancer that postponing appointments has resulted in later stage detection.

CDC isolation guidelines. Steinke admitted the new guidelines are fatiguing and confusing. He still things that 10 days, not five, is a better span of time to stop the spread. “Stay away for 10 days, give yourself time to heal, he said.

Troy Taylor

Troy E. Taylor

Was named editor for Saukvalley.com and the Gazette and Telegraph in 2021. An Illinois native, he has been a reporter or editor in daily newspapers since 1989.