COVID continues to dominate the news and our emergency rooms. The Delta variant has been the primary strain in the U.S. for some time now, and additional variants of concern/interest are also circulating. While we hoped for a clear end to the pandemic, experts predict that COVID will become endemic, in that it will continue to circulate for years to come.
It’s not the news we wanted to hear. But understanding Delta’s transmissibility, and learning from past emergencies, will allow us to prepare for COVID for the long run.
The Delta Variant
Hospitalizations and infection rates are rising and states with lower vaccination rates are being more severely impacted than those with higher vaccination rates. Healthcare facilities need a keen understanding of infection and vaccination rates in their area to effectively prepare for potential patient surges.
The healthcare industry overall was slow to understand the impact of COVID-19. This led to shortages in PPE and beds, a slow transition to best practices in treating and operating on COVID patients, and the overall lengthy process of implementing barriers, masks, social distancing and the appropriate training for all staff. The industry also realized that inadequate emergency management programs contributed to the delay in response.
It didn’t have to be so slow, though.
In 2005, emergency management and healthcare officials thought the avian flu was going to be the next pandemic. We made robust pandemic plans and amassed antiviral medication. Then the avian flu waned and the preparedness plans fell away. Four years later in 2009, H1N1 began to surge, and those same emergency management and healthcare personnel remembered some of what they had prepared for in 2005. As that virus faded and no longer posed a large-scale threat, officials shelved their pandemic preparedness plans again.
We hoped we could do the same in 2021 as COVID-19 cases began to wane with a pick-up in vaccinations earlier this year. It felt like a return to normal, when the virus would fade and we could go back to what life was like beforehand, just like in 2005 and 2009.
Unfortunately, this is not the case.
While we do have a good understanding of treating COVID-positive patients and maintaining overall operations through experience over the past year and a half, we must reframe our mindset.
It’s time for facilities managers to stop thinking “When will this be over?” and start thinking “How will we incorporate proven COVID protocols into our operations moving forward?”
COVID-19 is not the only emergency we have to be prepared for. Along with other endemic viruses, hospitals must be prepared for any disaster that strikes, from wildfires to snowstorms to floods and more. If facilities rely on the hope that the pandemic is ending soon and don’t remember the lessons learned from past pandemics and emergencies, they will be unprepared for other disasters that may strike. Having the ability to treat COVID patients alongside traditional and other emergency operations is critical.
We can hope that the COVID variants don’t survive and that more Americans get vaccinated to decrease their viral loads and prevent severe cases. But hope is not a plan and doesn’t prepare us for real emergencies. As long as variants propagate, and as long as people remain unvaccinated, COVID-19 will be a real and present health threat.
Seeking assistance in preparing your facilities for emergencies? Contact us at email@example.com or 855-633-9235 to learn more about our services.