Broome County COVID-19 Hospitalizations Are Highest Since Pandemic’s Start

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — COVID-19 hospitalizations are at an all-time high in Broome County. Fifty-four county residents, as well as 23 residents of surrounding counties, are hospitalized there.

Broome County Executive Jason Garnar said that 30 percent of the ICU beds in the county’s two hospitals, Lourdes and UHS*, were available and open as of Wednesday. Health care worker shortages, however, create challenges when staffing those beds.

Broome County Executive Jason Garnar at a weekly media briefing on Nov. 24, 2020. (screen capture, Jillian Forstadt/WSKG)

“You can have an ICU bed, you can have a hospital bed, but you also need the staff to help people there,” Garnar said during his weekly media briefing on Wednesday afternoon. “You just can’t put somebody in a room.”

Hospital staff members are among the 4,700 county residents in quarantine, according to Garnar. There were 729 active cases in the county as of Wednesday.

Garnar said the largest share of new cases reported over the last few days was among people ages 30 to 50. That’s a shift away from 18- to 24-year-olds, who represented the largest share of new cases in November.

The county executive stressed that hospitals need active cases to decrease to alleviate pressure on health care workers.

According to new hospital capacity data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of 126 counties across the nation, the average hospital is at least 90 percent occupied.

Last month, hospital officials at UHS said staff reinforcements were necessary to bolster the already exhausted workforce, combat burnout and fill in for those who are sick or under quarantine.

According to Kay Boland, Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Operating Officer, UHS has hired more than 50 new agency nurses since August to work in its Binghamton-area hospitals.

The arrival of a vaccine may alleviate some staffing pressures. Healthcare workers and nursing home residents will be the first two populations to receive the vaccine in New York. COVID-19 vaccine distribution is expected to begin before the end of the month.

The state will receive its first supply of the vaccine by Pfizer on Dec. 15, pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

An estimated 4,500 of the state’s 170,000 vaccine doses will go to the Southern Tier, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday. Broome County officials will work to store and coordinate distribution of the vaccine.

But Garnar said counties need federal funding to help get the vaccine out widely.

“I can’t think of a more important thing right now over the next year or so than making sure that, whether it’s hospitals, whether it’s pharmacies or local governments, like Broome County, can distribute as much vaccine as is needed,” he added.

Garnar said he hopes Congress will have a stimulus package with aid for counties ready in the next seven to 10 days.

It’s not yet clear how many of the first wave of doses will go to Broome County. The state and federal governments, Garnar added, will decide who gets the first dose.

*Full disclosure, UHS is a WSKG underwriter.