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Doctors, nurses brace for third wave of COVID infections

Published: Jul. 30, 2021 at 4:44 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - The people on the front lines of the war against COVID are bracing for a third wave of infections, as the Delta variant continues to spread rapidly.

“If we don’t see a jump in vaccinations, I’m preparing myself mentally that probably in the next six to 12 weeks - and again, I hope I’m absolutely wrong on it - we will see another big...at least, another wave,” Dr. Asim Kichloo from Samaritan Medical Center said Friday.

Dr. Kichloo has been studying the growth of the Delta variant of COVID-19, and the rate of vaccination in Jefferson County.

“If you just do the math, what does it tell you? The positivity rates are going to increase, the hospitalizations are going to increase,” he said.

“Are we seeing increased mortalities? No, we are not seeing increased mortalities until now. But it doesn’t mean you won’t get a severe disease. It doesn’t mean you won’t get sick.”

Compared to the height of the pandemic, the number of new cases is small - Jefferson County reported 22 in its most recent three day reporting period. But that’s more than recent weeks, and going in the wrong direction.

The 4 Main unit of the hospital was, for months, COVID central at Samaritan. It was empty and dead quiet Friday, but can be reopened if there’s a spike in COVID cases.

Dr. Kichloo recalled 4 Main - with its 10 rooms and 21 beds - as a “war zone,” at the height of the pandemic last winter.

“When you had to come in through that door,” he said, gesturing to the door to the unit, “you had to know that you were well prepared mentally, as well as physically.”

He recalled the unit being “flooded with patients,” and the “loud beeps of patients getting unstable.”

“I remember us being at around more than 30 patients in the hospital, and almost all of them, 70 to 80 percent of them were critically ill,” he said.

“By April, because then people started getting the vaccination, I would say this floor started getting empty and I’m almost certain that towards May, we hardly had any patients in this place,” the doctor recalled.

For the time being, Samaritan sends COVID patients to the Intensive Care Unit, not necessarily because of how sick they are, but because the unit has rooms with “negative pressure,” so COVID can’t flow out of the room and into the rest of the hospital.

Registered nurse Katie O’Brien treated many COVID patients over the last year. In that year, COVID has gone from being a frightening unknown, to a fact of medical life.

“Now we’ve done it, we’ve lived it and we know the things that need to be done in order to properly care for the patients and keep us safe,” she said this week.

“Right now, I think we’re prepared for a surge if in fact we do see that,” O’Brien told 7 News.

She too is concerned about the Delta variant - “viruses mutate, that’s what they do, the longer the COVID virus is out there, the more likely it’s going to mutate” - but adds “You can’t really let that get you down.”

O’Brien said the virus taught her to “value your people, value your relationships.”

“People who were otherwise healthy were really sick. Some didn’t make it,” said said. “Nobody knows what tomorrow’s gonna bring, and don’t take things for granted.”

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