NYC Hospitals Face Staffing Shortage Amid Omicron Outbreak

Hospital staffing in New York City and across the country remains an obstacle and threatens the success of President Biden’s new plans to protect Americans against the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant. Biden’s new plan to stop the spread of Omicron involves mobilizing 1,000 troops to COVID-burdened hospitals, deploying federal medical personnel to states, activating FEMA response teams so hospitals can add capacity, and providing ongoing support to hospitals to create and license more beds.

The plan also involves setting up new federal testing sites, with the first government testing sites set for New York City, distributing free, rapid at-home tests by mail, and using the Defense Production Act to produce as many COVID tests as quickly as possible. 

“The 1,000 troops that will assist across the country, although tremendously helpful, is not a lot in total when this Omicron wave is likely to affect the entire country. We’ll take whatever help we can get. We can’t rely on outside help in our planning. Any assistance with increasing access to testing will be helpful right now. We (are preparing) for very high positivity rates and subsequent testing demand. Right now, over 90 percent of the COVID cases in New York City are Omicron,” Dr. John D’Angelo, chief of integrated operations and senior vice president and executive director of emergency medicine services at Northwell Health said.

D’Angelo said the Omicron variant spreads more quickly than previous variants. Yet the variant results in less severe illness and fewer hospitalizations. 

“We’re at a much better position than we were at this time last year. Thanks to vaccinations, coupled with acquired immunity in those with previous COVID infections, many people have developed immunity. Prior infection in and of itself is not enough to rely on. Everyone should get vaccinated, and when eligible, receive a booster,” He said.

D’Angelo said vaccination reduces the risk of contracting COVID as well as the severity of the illness. 

“The original vaccine series is proven to be only approximately 40 percent effective against the Omicron variant. That efficacy increases to over 70 percent with a booster,” said D’Angelo.

Booster shots may offer an immediate improvement in the body’s ability to guard against the novel coronavirus. The booster typically takes between one to two weeks to provide full benefits.

“Looking at the Omicron waves in other countries, such as the UK, Norway, and South Africa, is very helpful,” said D’Angelo.

D’Angelo said New Yorkers still need to prepare for the worst case scenario. They should keep in mind the City’s living conditions, population density, and vaccination rates. The conditions of metropolitan areas overseas are not an exact match with New York City. 

Northwell is currently engaged in enormous public health education efforts to encourage New York City residents and visitors to get fully vaccinated and boosted. 

“Through several channels, (including) social media and Northwell’s website, we’re continually posting news and updates about a wide variety of topics. (These include) the limitations of monoclonal antibodies, importance of vaccinations, access to testing, and ways to reduce the risk of spread of COVID,” D’Angelo said.

One of the most reliable channels that Northwell utilizes to spread information to the public is its 78,000 employees.

Northwell is constantly updating its employees to provide them information with current events relating to COVID, the importance of vaccinations, details regarding system planning, and the Omicron variant. 

Additionally, D’Angelo said Northwell’s administration is aware that staff are tired. Yet leadership is making an effort to ensure Northwell employees are well informed, have confidence in the organization’s preparedness, and acknowledge the importance of Northwell’s efforts. 

Northwell expects to be extremely busy until the end of January.

“We’re currently working on a strategy to combat staff burnout and attrition. We have to brace ourselves for staffing challenges as Omicron surges through our communities. New York City residents can help by wearing masks, practicing socially distancing, and avoiding large and crowded gatherings during the winter holidays,” D’Angelo said.

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