Connecticut Hospital Chain Reports 630 Staffers Out in 1 Day Due to COVID

As COVID cases and hospitalizations in Connecticut continue to rise, one hospital system reported 630 staff missing work Tuesday because they had tested positive recently.

The spike in hospitalizations is approaching Connecticut's previous highs, as they have risen from 385 at the start of December to 1,562 as of Tuesday, inching closer to the high set in April 2020 of 1,972.

However, the hospitalizations are less likely to require intensive care or equipment like ventilators, which state government and health officials attribute to vaccinations and booster shots helping stave off most serious cases of the illness.

"The vaccinations and the boosters are making an enormous difference," Governor Ned Lamont said Tuesday. "We have a high infection rate. We're holding the line on our hospitalizations, in particular the ICUs (intensive care units) where we need capacity there. What a difference that makes."

Some of the hospitalization numbers are also just residents who are feeling ill and can't find anywhere else to get a test nearly as quickly as they can in an emergency room, which still puts pressure on the hospitals, officials said.

Dr. Tom Balcezak, chief clinical officer for Yale New Haven Heath, which runs five acute-care hospitals in the state, said the new spike is adding to already challenging staff shortages.

"Today we had 630 staff out with COVID; we've never seen numbers that high," he said.

He also said many hospitals are seeing health care workers dealing with physical and emotional burnout over the immense burden that has been put on the medical system to deal with the virus for nearly the past two years.

Connecticut, COVID, Hospitalizations, Staff Shortages
Tom Balcezak, chief clinical officer for the Yale New Haven Hospital system, said on Tuesday the organization is missing a combined 630 workers because of positive COVID tests, the most it has ever seen in one day. Above, Yale New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut. Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Many patients in emergency rooms are in overflow beds in hallways, and nurses are often working double shifts due to staffing shortages, said Sherri Dayton, an emergency department nurse at the Backus Plainfield Emergency Care Center and a vice president with the AFT Connecticut labor union. Many emergency rooms have hours-long waiting times, she said.

"We are drowning. We are exhausted," Dayton said.

Lamont said no new virus mandates are planned, despite calls from health care workers for a statewide mask rule for indoor places and other precautionary requirements.

Lamont continued to urge people to get vaccinated and receive a booster shot. Nearly 70% of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in the state are not vaccinated.

The most serious cases are still because of the Delta variant, hospital officials say, while the Omicron variant continues to surge.

In the Hartford HealthCare system, which includes seven acute-care hospitals across the state, hospitalizations are approaching their pandemic peak of 425 in April 2020, said Dr. Ajay Kumar, the system's chief clinical officer. He said 55 patients are in critical care, lower than the high of 128 patients in 2020. He said COVID-19 is not stressing critical care capacity at the moment.

Many people are seeking testing or treatment for mild symptoms, while others who are coming in for virus-unrelated problems are testing positive. Lines remained long Tuesday at testing sites around the state, as demand for tests outpaced testing supplies.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.