The rising number of COVID-19 cases is putting at risk the ability of Grand Island/Hall County Emergency Services to provide essential services to the community.
Emergency calls are increasing “both in number and severity,” said Jon Rosenlund, Emergency Management director.
“It has a direct effect on incoming 911 calls that we receive for breathing problems, sick people and those who need transport to the hospital due to symptoms of COVID,” he said. “As we see the numbers in the hospitals rise, it’s important to remember that many of those cases are generated by 911 calls.”
Rising COVID cases also puts public safety responders and health care personnel at risk, Rosenlund said.
Patient transport also is affected.
“When they have severe symptoms, they need to be transported to a larger hospital with more beds,” he said. “If you can find a hospital that can take a patient, that takes an ambulance to do that transport.”
Hospitals also are forced to meet the challenges created by more COVID cases.
“As our hospitals fill up, there’s a greater risk of having to ration and triage health care resources,” Rosenlund said.
There are a “relatively low number of beds available” for patients of COVID and all other needs in Hall County and the surrounding area, he said.
“When you fill a hospital with 47 patients, as reported today by (CHI Health) St. Francis, out of 90, those are beds that are no longer available if you have some other medical problem, or not available for the elective and necessary surgeries out there,” Rosenlund said.
He added, “You can’t wave a wand and create new medical staff or make new beds appear.”
People are having to wait longer to even see a doctor because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
“Patients in smaller hospitals that need more critical care are waiting hours and hours to find a hospital that has an open bed to take them, and then they have to travel miles and miles, much farther than they used to,” Rosenlund said.
Rising COVID-19 cases also means Hall County is less able to respond to emergencies, he said.
“If we have a natural disaster and we’re required to put up a shelter, like we did last year during the flooding in Wood River, that shelter would be very difficult to manage,” Rosenlund said. “It takes a number of special considerations this year that weren’t necessary in 2019. A congregate shelter would have some significant challenges in meeting the needs of people, but also to keep them safe from any disease transmission.”
He added, “How long our good fortune with the weather can last, I don’t know.”
The surge in cases is “much more widespread in the community” than it was in March and April, Rosenlund said.
“In the spring, when we had that spike, it really was affecting one segment of our population, surrounding the meatpacking plant,” he said. “Today, it’s really spread throughout the community.”
Many other services in Hall County are also at risk of being interrupted.
“The spread of COVID threatens the ability to provide vital services like public safety, safe drinking water, utilities, health care,” Rosenlund said. “It needs to be a public effort to manage this public health crisis.”
Four rules for preventing the spread of COVID are being encouraged: avoid gatherings, wash hands frequently, wear a face mask or covering, and don’t go out if you’re not feeling well, Rosenlund said.
Some, though, are unable or unwilling to follow these rules, he said.
“It seems many people are set. Their minds have been made up and they don’t want to hear any information,” Rosenlund said. “This community, like never before, is at risk of not being able to meet the health care needs of the sick and the afflicted. Without a public response, without individuals, households and families each doing what they can, this isn’t going to work.”