As Covid-19 Inundates Hospitals, Nurses Beg For Action By Governors

By Lenny Bernstein

With few options left, overwhelmed doctors and other caregivers are appealing directly to governors for relief from the staggering increases in hospitalized covid-19 patients as the virus surges across the country.

In Connecticut, Tennessee, Missouri and Mississippi, physicians have issued unusually public pleas for stronger responses to the pandemic as hospitals and their staffs near a breaking point. The number of hospitalized covid-19 patients surpassed 100,000 on Wednesday, placing enormous strain on the nation’s acute care hospitals, where there are roughly 730,000 beds.

The efforts have achieved little in the way of tangible relief so far, and in one case drew a rebuke from Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R).

Without a new relief package from Washington, governors have adopted a variety of approaches to grapple with the runaway virus while trying to keep parts of their economies alive. That includes allowing some businesses, such as restaurants and gyms, to remain open with limited capacity and other restrictions.

The largest organized effort by health-care providers may be in Connecticut, where dozens of doctors wrote Gov. Ned Lamont (D), asking him to halt indoor dining, close gyms and ban “all other unnecessary public gatherings.” Nearly 700 people signed an online version of the letter, adding comments that illustrate their frustration and fear about the unrelenting flow of patients into the state’s hospitals.

“We are prepared to do whatever we can to care for, comfort, and heal all those that we can, but we want everyone outside to know what we are up against, and not to assume that our capacity is limitless,” the Nov. 24 letter to Lamont said.

Under “reasons for signing,” people who identified themselves by name as doctors, nurses and others added comments such as, “I wish as many of my patients and colleagues survive to 2021 as possible,” and “I’m a critical care nurse and we are running out of room! Please help us.”

Naftali Kaminski, chief of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at the Yale School of Medicine, who signed the original letter, said in an interview that “you can keep pumping the water but someone needs to close the levees. It’s a little bit of a Katrina feeling.”

In Connecticut, restaurants are allowed to be open at 50 percent of capacity, with a maximum of eight people per table, and must close indoor dining by 10 p.m. Users of gyms and fitness centers must wear masks at all times. Fitness classes are limited to 25 percent of capacity.

Lamont met virtually Tuesday with some of the letter writers to hear their frustrations and promised to continue talking, said Max Reiss, his director of communications.

“The governor has already scaled back the reopening of the state with additional recent steps to enhance enforcement of public health rules,” Reiss said in a statement. “Those steps are consistent with the advice of Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who has said to keep bars closed and work to keep schools open — moves Connecticut has made.” Fauci is the nation’s top infectious-disease specialist and a member of President Trump’s coronavirus task force.

The Connecticut doctors have fared better than colleagues in Mississippi, where Reeves on Tuesday rejected a call to reinstitute a statewide mask mandate. That Nov. 24 plea came from four medical leaders, including LouAnn Woodward, vice-chancellor of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and Claude Brunson, executive director of the Mississippi State Medical Association.

Reeves imposed a statewide mask mandate in August, but lifted it in late September when cases were declining. The letter said “the statewide mask mandate, which was highly effective, needs to be reinstituted.”

But Reeves now favors a county-by-county mandate approach and encouraging residents to wear masks. On Tuesday, he added 13 counties to the mandate, raising the number to 54 of the state’s 82 counties. At a media briefing Tuesday, he added, “I almost feel like there are those out there who really, truly believe if I were to write an executive order, a statewide prohibition against hurricanes in 2021, that we won’t have any hurricanes. It just doesn’t work that way.”

Reeves’s office did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Earlier last month, doctors in Tennessee pleaded with Gov. Bill Lee (R) to issue a statewide mask order and two days ago, a St. Louis-area physician started a petition asking Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) to do the same.

“We’re drowning at the hospital,” Micah Luderer told local media. “People are dying every day from covid-19, and we’re not doing everything in our power to stop the virus.”

John R. Spurzem, chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, said some doctors may take up Woodward’s call for a mask mandate, though he expressed discouragement at Reeves’s response to the first request.

Woodward wrote on Twitter Wednesday that “as of 6:46 am today, UMMC’s bed status is -31 beds, which means that 31 people are admitted but waiting for a bed to become available. Who will be #32 or #33 or #34?”

“Those of us in health care are numb, frustrated and so very tired,” she added in another tweet.

Spurzem said the hospital is “not swamped like some of the places in the Upper Midwest that we’ve been reading about,” but “our numbers have doubled and tripled just in the last month. So we’re starting to surge again. And we better do some thing sooner or later.”

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