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All COVID patients in OHSU ICU are unvaccinated, doctor says

As of Monday, 30 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 at OHSU. Dr. Matthias Merkel said all COVID patients in its ICU were unvaccinated.

PORTLAND, Ore. — As the delta variant of the coronavirus sweeps through Oregon, health care systems are pleading with people to help them out and flatten the curve again. 

Forty percent of the state isn't vaccinated against the virus. Over the past month we've seen coronavirus cases and hospitalizations rise. 

One hospital sent an email to patients calling for action right away. 

Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) sent all their patients an email over the weekend with the subject line "OHSU calls for urgent action as hospitals fill with COVID patients."

The health care system cited its latest grim COVID-19 forecast, which predicts Oregon will be short 400 to 500 hospital beds by Labor Day if we don't stop the virus from spreading now. That means all types of patients wouldn't be able to get treated in the hospital.

"It is so sad because it's 100% preventable," said OHSU medical intensive care unit nurse Jamie Pinney.

Most people don't see what Pinney sees every day in the hospital's COVID ICU.

"We're seeing way younger patients, some with no pre-existing conditions," said Pinney.

Stressed health care systems across the state are now dealing with a rapid uptick in COVID-19 patients. The way things are going, it's only going to get worse. Data shows Oregon will be short hundreds of staffed hospital beds in three weeks.

"It is bad," said OHSU Senior Associate Chief Medical Officer Dr. Matthias Merkel. "The rapid increase of who needs my skillset as intensivist is unheard of. We haven't seen that." 

Currently OHSU is operating at full capacity based on staffing abilities. As of Monday, 30 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 at OHSU. COVID patients make up 25% of ICU patients.

"We are not able to provide bed assignment in the time we wish we could or were able to before COVID," Dr. Merkel added. "It is not normal to have one disease take care of a quarter of your patient population in the ICU."

Merkel said 100% of COVID patients currently in its intensive care units are unvaccinated. 

Those on the frontlines are burned out, breaking down in the hallways and quitting.

"I'm really tired. But all my colleagues are tired," Pinney said, holding back tears. "I personally started having panic attacks and... I'm doing my best to keep it together for my children at home."

What does this mean for you and your family? If you need to go to the hospital for any reason you may not get a bed. This affects anyone who might need care at the hospital, not just COVID patients.

To make room, OHSU has to delay many types of surgeries, many of which were put on hold this past year.

"Anything which is emergent and life-saving right now, we continue to provide that service," Merkel said. "We will continue to do our best but we need your help."

There are things we can do right now to help: wear a mask inside, wear a mask outside if you can't keep your distance, limit get-togethers and get vaccinated.

"Absolutely the best defense strategy we have," Merkel said. "The next two to three weeks are pre-prescribed because that happened in the past. We can't change that. We can only control now and the future. So do it now."

"All we're trying to do is save people. That's all I'm doing by doing this interview is trying to save people," Pinney added.

If you're not vaccinated, health care workers ask you to stay home and avoid being around people. They're also asking everyone hold off on risky activities that could send you to the hospital or emergency room.

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