Michael Cleary is a senior biology major.
In Washington, they mandate masks in public when indoors and the state is rolling out vaccine mandates for all teachers and support staff to be vaccinated. The neighboring state of Idaho does not have such restrictions. 63% of the population in Washington is vaccinated compared to only 44% in Idaho.
Shockingly, hospitals in Idaho are now at crisis standard of care because of being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of COVID-19 patients. Being in a crisis standard means hospitals may now ration their supplies and may deny treatment to some patients out of necessity.
The state still hasn’t issued a mask mandate even as their hospitals are completely overwhelmed with new patients. Instead, Idaho is making their problem into Washington’s problem by sending their extra patients over the border to receive care.
“We certainly need our friends in the Idaho government to do more to preserve their citizens’ health, because we know that their crisis is becoming our problem,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement.
Idaho’s governor, Brad Little, proceeded in his answer to say that he would not reinstate any restrictions and hoped that his residents would “do the right thing and get vaccinated.” He has pledged to take legal action to overturn Biden’s new vaccine mandates.
The situation in Alaska is even worse. Hospitals are completely overwhelmed to where they’ve been forced to ration care. A hospital in Anchorage had only one remaining ICU bed. There was a patient being flown in for emergency surgery with a waiting room full of patients, most of who were seeking treatment for COVID-19. It forced the team of doctors on staff to make the gut-wrenching decision about who would receive the bed. In the end, they gave the bed to one patient waiting in the emergency room. The man being flown in for emergency surgery, for something completely unrelated to COVID-19, died.
He was not the only one. When COVID-19 causes hospitalizations, it often causes serious kidney damage. Because of this, dialysis machines have to be used for COVID-19 patients. This shortage forced doctors to treat two patients who needed constant dialysis, with only one machine. One of the patients died. This is the danger that the unvaccinated unnecessarily creates for those responsible enough to be fully vaccinated. By tying up hospital resources and placing an increased strain on healthcare staff because of their own selfishness, it puts the rest of the population at risk who need treatment for non-COVID-19 emergencies.
In response to their healthcare system being overloaded, doctors and nurses have been desperately pleading with Alaskan citizens to get vaccinated (only 50% of the state is fully vaccinated), or at the very least wear a mask. They spoke at Anchorage Assembly meetings to convince people to do the responsible thing, and the people in the crowd simply heckled them. At another meeting to promote mask mandates, many audience members wore yellow Stars of David, comparing the government’s treatment of anti-maskers to the Nazi’s treatment of Jewish people during the Holocaust. The mayor of Anchorage, Dave Broson, supported those who did this and claimed that “it was appropriate to ‘borrow’ the symbol.”
Enough is enough.
It is time to stop prioritizing the treatment of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients. We can no longer enable the selfishness of the unvaccinated. The fact that people are being turned away from hospitals and having their treatments and/or surgeries delayed because hospitals must prioritize the treatment of COVID-19 patients is disgusting. It should be the opposite. In August, 86% of COVID-19 hospitalizations were unvaccinated patients. There is absolutely no reason for COVID-19 patients to continuously overwhelm our healthcare system. And there is no reason for people seeking treatments and surgery for non-COVID-19 related ailments to be turned away; they should be the ones given priority.
We are also seeing nurses leaving the profession in droves. They are broken, bloodied, and now have to fight a fourth wave of COVID-19 that was entirely preventable. According to the 2021 NSI Nursing Solutions report, 62% of all US hospitals report a “nurse vacancy rate higher than 7.5%.” A survey by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses “found that out of 6,000 critical care nurses surveyed, 66% have considered leaving their jobs because of the pandemic.” Nurses leaving their professions in droves causes a positive feedback loop; as more nurses leave the profession, hospitals become more understaffed, placing more burden upon the remaining staff, which then causes more nurses to leave, and the cycle continues.
Ray DeMonia, a 73-year-old man born and raised in Alabama, died on Sep. 1st because of cardiac issues. But he didn’t die in Alabama. He passed away in an intensive care unit in Meridian, Mississippi, 200 miles from home. Why so far away? 43 hospitals in 3 different states turned him away prior to the one he ended up in because of their ICUs being at capacity with COVID-19 patients. Instead of spending his remaining time being ushered from hospital to hospital desperately seeking a place that would treat him, he could have spent that time surrounded by friends and family in his home state of Alabama. That comfort was ripped away from him and his family.
Now that we understand the disease intimately and have a vaccine to combat it, hospitals shouldn’t have to continue to give priority to treating COVID-19 patients. There are many Americans who could not access proper medical care for their non-COVID-19 ailments over the last few months because of the pandemic. It is their turn to be given priority. They shouldn’t have to suffer because of the selfishness of others.