I'm a local ICU doctor. Please take precautions, COVID-19 is going to hit our hospitals hard

Published August 24, 2021

Daniel W. Johnson, MD

By Daniel W. Johnson, MD, critical care anesthesiologist

This is a personal social media post written by Nebraska Medicine critical care anesthesiologist Daniel W. Johnson, MD. It is shared with permission from Dr. Johnson.

If you are considering getting vaccinated for COVID-19, please do so immediately. Our region has the potential to look exactly like Florida, Alabama and Mississippi over the next several weeks. In the southern U.S., many hospitals and ICUs are full and lack adequate nursing resources. Some non-COVID-19 patients are being transported more than 1,000 miles to ICUs that are under less strain.  Many individuals and families are suffering because of COVID-19 deaths that could have been prevented by vaccination.

The delta variant is different from the early strain. It is at least twice as transmissible.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the average age of a COVID-19 patient admitted to our hospital was 72. Over the last few weeks, the average age has been 49. In Nebraska, 88% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.

  • On June 27, Nebraska had 27 COVID-19 patients in the hospital, and nine in the ICU
  • As of Aug. 24, Nebraska has 313 COVID-19 patients in the hospital and 95 in the ICU

That's more than a 10-fold increase in eight weeks.

These numbers continue to grow swiftly as delta spreads through the state. Please see the graph below. It's showing the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Omaha metro hospitals. 

A graph showing a dramatic increase in COVID-19 patients in Metro Omaha Hospitals and on ventilators.

(Click the graph to view a larger version.)

Prior to this surge, hospitals in the area were already quite full with non-COVID-19 care. We don’t have room for hundreds of COVID-19 patients, and hospitals throughout the region are in need of more nurses. Getting vaccinated makes you far less likely to occupy an ICU bed, which means that an ICU bed is available for non-COVID-19 care. When our region’s hospitals are packed with COVID-19 patients (like we experienced in November) those hospitals are incapable of providing optimal care for heart attacks, strokes, trauma, sepsis and major surgeries.

If you are worried about getting vaccinated, please speak with a physician, nurse practitioner, physician assistant or pharmacist you trust. Ask questions. The studies that proved these vaccines to be effective and safe were extremely well conducted. More than 5 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine have now been administered, worldwide. Extremely few serious adverse events have occurred as a result of the vaccines. I know that many people worry about the long-term side effects of the vaccine. More than 640,000 Americans have suffered the ultimate side effect of the virus – death. Thousands more are suffering from severe long-term side effects from being infected.

The FDA recently gave full approval for the Pfizer vaccine for people aged 16 and up. For people who hesitated to receive the vaccine because it was under Emergency Use Authorization, now is the time to get vaccinated. Now is the time to get your 16-year-old (and up) child vaccinated. The rigor with which the FDA scrutinizes new vaccines and drugs is extremely impressive. The FDA has analyzed the effects of the Pfizer vaccine on millions of Americans, and it has concluded that it is effective and safe. Expect full approval of the Moderna vaccine soon.

Nearly every single critically ill COVID-19 patient is unvaccinated. This proves that vaccination is extremely effective at preventing COVID-induced critical illness. COVID-19 patients suffering in our ICUs would give anything to go back in time and receive the vaccine. Stories abound of unvaccinated, dying COVID-19 patients begging family members to get vaccinated in their final hours.

At this point, everyone knows how to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19:

  • Avoid crowded places, especially indoors, and especially with unmasked and unvaccinated people
  • During times of high transmission (like now), please wear a mask indoors when you are with nonhousehold members
  • If you go to church, please wear a mask. Singing in a crowd is an easy way to transmit the virus

Whether we have a mandate or not, we should wear masks indoors to help reduce the spread during outbreaks and to help protect the vulnerable.

None of these measures are perfect. Masks aren’t 100% effective, but they HELP. Avoiding large crowds is not 100% effective, but it HELPS. And the vaccines, while remarkable in their protection, are not 100% effective. When these measures and others are combined, we reduce the number of people who get sick and die.

I know that there is a massive amount of misinformation about vaccines on the web. Ninety-six percent of U.S. physicians got vaccinated by June 2021. Physicians understand how to analyze the data in the vaccine trials, and we all got vaccinated and we all asked our family members to get vaccinated. The vaccines work. They are safe. Spread the word. Please get vaccinated today.

I’m very concerned about the number of hospital beds and nurses this surge will require, just like we were concerned before the surge in October and November. When hospitals are overly full, quality of care suffers for ALL conditions. Please take simple precautions to reduce the spread so that our region does not lose the ability to provide optimal care for all acute health conditions.