As of Thursday there were 53 Covid patients in the Yale New Haven Health System’s five hospitals.
That is five times the number there were two weeks ago.
Of those, 10 patients are in the ICU. Five are on ventilators.
Two weeks ago there was one patient in the ICU and none were on ventilators.
“I don’t want to be a pessimist but these numbers bring concern to all of us, none more so than the people in our clinics and in patient care areas who are seeing a growing number of patients,” said Marna Borgstrom, the Yale New Haven Health System CEO at a press conference focusing on the Delta variant of Covid-19 on Thursday.
The health system is requiring all employees, except those with medical or religious exemptions, to be fully vaccinated by October 1, 2021. That means they need their first dose by the end of August. A little over 80% of staff have been vaccinated already.
The health system runs The Grimes Center, a nursing home in New Haven, where staff are also required to be vaccinated by Oct 1.
53 Covid cases at YNHHS hospitals as of July 29
• Yale New Haven Hospital: 19 patients (+8 from 2 weeks ago)
• Bridgeport Hospital: 12 patients (+9 from two weeks ago)
• Greenwich Hospital: 9 patients (there were 0 two weeks ago)
• Westerly Hospital: 3 patients (there were 0 two weeks ago)
• Lawrence + Memorial Hospital: 10 patients (there were 0 two weeks ago)
“For anyone asked is this pandemic behind us, I think this demonstrates that it is not,” Borgstrom said.
Dr. Tom Balcezak, Chief Medical Officer of the health system, said the five-fold increase was concerning.
“The story here is the Delta variant, which is spreading across the US, is now the predominant strain spreading here in CT,” he said.
The primary reason for concern about the Delta variant is that it has a higher viral load.
“Those who get the Delta variant are spreading much more virus, and it is infecting more people because it has some key mutations on its spike protein that suggest it to be more effective at fusing with human cells and infecting human cells,” he explained.
“We continue as a nation to struggle to keep up with the evolving nature of this pandemic, but the breakneck speed at which science is occurring is absolutely amazing,” he added.
Balcezak said because of the bombardment of individuals from people who are infected, even those people who are vaccinated are becoming infected.
Still, the vaccine continues to be incredibly effective at preventing infection, and more importantly at preventing serious disease and death.
“But if you bombard people with enough virus over enough period of time, some people in the vaccinated category will get infected, and that’s what we’re seeing.”
Balcezak said previously 95%+ of Covid patients in the health system were unvaccinated, but as the delta variant spreads, a higher percentage of people who are vaccinated are being admitted.
Currently 75% of inpatients are unvaccinated; 25% are vaccinated.
“Does this mean the vaccine is ineffective? Absolutely not. This vaccine is still our best way out of the pandemic. The greater the percentage of our population that we can get vaccinated, the less it will spread.”
“There is an incredibly important reason for young people to get vaccinated, and that’s to protect our older citizens, even those older citizens who are vaccinated.”Dr. Tom Balcezak, Yale New Haven Health System Chief Medical Officer
“The biggest group in our population in Connecticut that needs to get vaccinated is the 12 -25 year old group. That’s the folks across our state who are young and healthy, but are at risk of the virus,” he continued. “When they get it they spread it a lot and put our vaccinated folks, which are our older groups, at risk.”
“The vaccine is still very effective against all the circulating variants we have, including the Delta variant, which is the majority of what are seeing here now in the US.”
“In areas of high incidents where it is growing and circulating, folks should be wearing masks regardless of whether they are vaccinated or unvaccinated,” Balcezak said. But he added that the information on areas of high transmission sometimes has a lag.
“You may be in an area of high transmission and not know it yet until it has been transmitted to you,” he continued, add that that he is masking indoors himself.
Breakthrough Covid and Symptoms
“We definitely know that the vaccinated can get the virus. We also now that the vaccinated can transmit the virus, and may not know that they are sick. The vast majority of people who are vaccinated who get the virus have very mild symptoms. Some people may think it is seasonal allergies or the common cold, when in fact it is Covid.”
Balcezak said what they’re seeing with folks who are vaccinated who get the virus are very mild symptoms including a headache and slight cough.
“Unusually, also they are starting to see folks with soar throats or sneezing. If you have one of those symptoms, yes, get a test,” Balcezak said, adding they are seeing asymptomatic people with Covid.
People can schedule a test through the Yale New Haven Health System website. Turnaround times for Covid tests is generally are 24 hours or less. There is plenty of availability.
Emotional Frustration among Medical Providers
Borgstrom talked about the emotional frustration and anger on the part of some providers.
She said she participated in a discussion with leaders around the country, including a some in high risk areas with surges.
“The common thing reported is that staff, physicians, respiratory therapists and nurses are angry and resentful because they believed that until up until the vaccination was available, we were all supporting the care of people who were quite unfortunate,” Borgstrom said. “Now there is a sense that this was avoidable. Even though vaccinated people can get the disease, by and large, they don’t require hospitalization and they don’t get really sick.”
Borgstrom said that in areas with high surges and low vaccination rates staff are being put at risk by people who have had a choice to be vaccinated and have chosen not to.
“That was shared in a number of discussions,” she added. “When you reflect on the fact that the majority of people worked from home for a good period of time at the beginning of the pandemic, got cabin fever, but were kind of insulated. Our staffs have been at this as if this was the only job they had for a long period of time. They’ve given everything they’ve got. …It’s not surprising that were seeing this emotional frustration, and, as described, anger on the part of some of the providers because they follow the science and don’t believe we have to be where we are right now.”
Balcezak said there was a range of emotions among medical staff.
“I think fatigue – physical and emotional fatigue – is the primary one. And I think not knowing when the completion of this marathon is ever going to happen is probably one of the hardest.”
Misinformation and the “Disinformation Dozen”
Balcezak said the most bothersome type of information is likely the most effective.
“That is when someone takes a kernel or element of truth and distorts it in a way to a conclusion that is patently false,” he said. “A kernel of information that is true is there are some people who died after getting vaccinated. But when you’re vaccinating 165 million people, there are going to be some people who have heart attacks, have car accidents or commit suicide, and that needs to be differentiated from the few individuals who have had some complications of the vaccine such as an anaphylactic allergic reaction or one of these clotting events that happens with the J&J vaccine or the vaccine they’re using in Europe. Those are very small numbers of events as balanced against the 650,000 people dead in the US from Covid-19.”
Balcezak said those facts get distorted to make people fear getting a vaccine when the risk of dying from Covid-19 is infinitely higher than any risk from the vaccine.
“You ask enough question with enough innuendo and twisting of the facts that will scare people. It’ usually and often done by people with some scientific background, and that’s what bothers me.”
There are about a dozen people across the country who are responsible for about 85% of the disinformation spread.
“We’re all working to undo some of that disinformation that’s being communicated by a relatively small number of individuals. It’s disheartening to see what an impact they have had,” Balcezak said.