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'We're reliving 2020 in 2021;' Las Vegas hospital workers discuss surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations

Hospital beds filling up, mostly with unvaccinated
Posted at 10:19 PM, Jul 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-22 16:05:10-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Some Las Vegas hospital workers are providing a rare but real look at what they're dealing with right now.

For weeks, 13 Action News has been reporting on a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, largely driven by the Delta variant and a local lag in vaccinations. Now, we're getting first-person accounts of the crisis that won’t go away.

"I work in the COVID unit here at UMC [University Medical Center]. Currently, our census for the COVID unit is like 18, but in the hospital, it's really high. It's been getting higher every week. Most of our patients are unvaccinated and are very sick," said Robin Ringler, an Intensive Care Unit charge nurse at UMC.

Vegas hospital workers discuss COVID surge | University Medical Center

The virus and its variants are still spreading, once again at a rapid rate.

"Sadly, the news is not good. We continue to see an increase in the total amount of daily cases, not just in positive tests in the city, but also in hospitalizations. They note that patients do seem to get sicker quicker and that the patients are younger this time around, as compared to the beginning of the pandemic," said Dr. Luis Medina-Garcia, an infectious disease physician at UMC.

Local hospital beds are starting to fill up, just like last year.

"We have had a break for the last two and a half months and, unfortunately, now we're back to feeling like we were back in January and February when close to half of our ICU was critically ill patients with COVID respiratory failure. Basically, we're reliving 2020 in 2021," said Dr. Angie Honsberg, a pulmonologist and the medical director of the ICU at UMC.

In Nevada, hospitalizations are up 214% in the last month, and about a thousand Nevadans are currently fighting COVID-19 in the hospital.

"We are seeing a fair increase in the number of these patients. There are two different kinds we see: those, unfortunately, who declined vaccination and are now presented with severe illness, and the other half are immunocompromised patients who were vaccinated, but still contracted COVID," said Dr. Shadaba Asad, medical director of infectious disease at UMC.

"Like many states across the U.S., we are at a 50% vaccination rate, which is a growing concern for us when our data shows that about 85% of our COVID-19 and Delta variant patients are without a history for vaccination," said Alma Angeles, director of nursing and critical care services at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center.

Their request for the people of Las Vegas is simple.

"Please get your vaccine if you meet the qualification, and keep yourself and your family healthy," said Angeles.

Vegas hospital workers discuss COVID surge | Angela Angeles

"If there is one message I would like to get out there, it is to go and get vaccinated. Vaccines may not be 100% effective, but most certainly, whichever one you go for will prevent you from getting hospitalized or dying of COVID-19 infection," said Dr. Asad.

And while thousands remain staunchly unvaccinated, these workers will tell you that once you start feeling sick, it's already too late.

"We've had many patients that have told us that they wish they had been vaccinated. Sadly, it's too late by the time they get to us. What you could do to help us, those you love, and your country, is to get a vaccine," said Dr. Medina-Garcia.

These medical experts say that medication and treatments for COVID-19 have come a long way since the start of the pandemic, and that's what's helping hospitals keep the death rate relatively low.

But, they also want to stress that if you're hospitalized with the virus, it's a very lonely, uncomfortable and stressful stay. And it's largely preventable if you just get the vaccine.