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In Ohio, some hospitals are running out of beds because of the COVID surge

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

For the next few minutes, we're going to focus on Ohio to get a sense of how this huge surge in COVID cases is pushing some states to limit. The state is recording record daily numbers of cases. Some hospitals are running out of beds, and a thousand members of the National Guard have been deployed to help. On the line with us now is Dr. Jennifer Wall Forrester. She's an infectious disease specialist and the associate chief medical officer at UC Health in Cincinnati, Ohio. Doctor, you're in touch with hospitals and public health officials across Ohio. How are things in the state?

JENNIFER WALL FORRESTER: Good morning, A. It's not good. We are at capacity at many of our hospitals. In fact, we are - the number of hospitalizations at this point in the year have either surpassed or come very close to surpassing our highest wave last year at this time.

MARTINEZ: Are you worried that you're not able to give the kind of care people need right now?

FORRESTER: Oh, my gosh, yes. So it's - in Cincinnati, where I am, we are not quite seeing the wave that they're seeing in the northeast part of the state, and we know it's coming. That's pretty scary. Like you said, we are already over capacity and realize that holiday gatherings that are happening and it's going to get worse. Not only is taking care of incredibly sick and dying people difficult, but the anxiety of not being sure when you come in each day if you're able to give the kind of - the absolute best care that you want to give with the limited resources and being stretched so thin, it's, frankly, heartbreaking.

MARTINEZ: So, Doctor, what could state and maybe federal officials do to help? I mean, would more restrictions be put in place, would that be helpful?

FORRESTER: You know, I think, at this point, restrictions on - regarding masking or closing businesses or schools haven't been the answer. Certainly, schools being - is particularly helpful to our children; I, having three, know that. The mandates that have been in place, again, haven't helped at this point. People, I think are - believe me, health care workers are the No. 1 people who want this to be over. And I know that others want this to be over, too. And so masking and those things are certainly helpful to stop the spread of COVID-19, including the omicron variant, but haven't necessarily been fully taken up by everyone.

We are so thankful for the National Guard being deployed, as you pointed out, to hospitals. Basically some of the medically trained guards people will be able to, after they take some time learning each system, be able to kind of step in in nursing roles or other medical roles. The non-medically trained people will help alleviate the burden, like, of the non-medical tasks, like bathing, transporting, those kind of things that have fallen to our nurses so that they can get back to really what they're trained to do. What we really need...

MARTINEZ: Doctor...

FORRESTER: Oh, go ahead.

MARTINEZ: That's exactly what I was going to ask you, what you really needed. Like, if I could grant one wish that could realistically be granted, what would you want?

FORRESTER: Really, what we need people to do is get their boosters if they have already been vaccinated. If they've been hesitant at this point, now's the time. They're at very, very high risk of becoming infected because of how efficiently and fast this omicron variant is spreading. They are at risk for - the people who are unvaccinated right now are the people who are getting hospitalized. They're the people dying, unfortunately, of this infection. And they're at high risk of - even if they get a low or a mild disease, they're at risk of infecting their families, their friends, their neighbors, co-workers. So, really, we need people to get vaccinated.

MARTINEZ: One more thing really quick. I know the FDA has just authorized the Pfizer antiviral pill as - for the first approved at-home treatment for COVID. Will these drugs, you think, help head things off?

FORRESTER: Gosh, I hope so. I am very excited about any medication, any type of treatment that can help us decrease the amount of hospitalizations, not, A - we don't want to see any more people die in our state, the rest of the country or the rest of the world. And if we can get ourself through this, that would be fabulous.

MARTINEZ: That's Dr. Jennifer Wall Forrester at UC Health in Cincinnati, Ohio. Doctor, thank you.

FORRESTER: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.