BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – During a press briefing in Buffalo on Tuesday, Governor Kathy Hochul said 90% of Western New York’s staffed hospital beds were full. Heading into the same period of time when COVID cases surged in 2020, hospital administrators are monitoring their censuses closely.
Kaleida officials say Buffalo General Medical Center is already above capacity, and the network’s other hospitals are filling up. ECMC is under capacity by about 40 beds, but still concerned about the problem a potential winter surge in COVID cases might create. A spokesperson for Catholic Health did not respond to an email questioning capacity at their facilities.
On Monday, 308 COVID patients were in a hospital bed in the five-county Western New York region according to state data. On the same day in 2020 – November 15 – there were 175 COVID patients in the region, a lower number even though there was no vaccine available at the time. Dr. Nancy Nielsen, the Senior Associate Dean for Health Policy at the University at Buffalo’s School of Medicine, says changing behaviors over the last year are to blame.
“We’ve gone back to – quote – near normal,” Nielsen said. “We are going shopping. We’re going out to dinner. We’re going to movies, to concerts.”
Nielsen believes the vaccine has made people complacent.
“That’s not smart,” she added. “You can’t assume that everybody you see when you’re out is vaccinated.”
Between November 15 and December 9 last year, COVID hospitalizations more than tripled in Western New York. Medical officials are wondering whether that will happen again in 2021.
“We don’t know if we’re going to hit a ceiling and not hit the same numbers as last year,” said Dr. Samuel Cloud, the Associate Medical Director at ECMC. “But my fear is based upon what we’re seeing so far, that we’re on a similar trajectory as last year.”
“I’m concerned, because a year ago going into that winter surge, we had more inpatient capacity than we do now,” he added. “Then, we were below 500 (patients). Now, we’re routinely in the 520s to 540s. So I don’t have capacity to add another 40 COVID patients.”
Hochul said this week just 0.08% of fully vaccinated people statewide were hospitalized with COVID-19. Both Cloud and Nielsen expressed the importance of getting vaccinated.
“The person who is unvaccinated is simply a sitting duck for this virus,” Nielsen said.
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2017. See more of his work here.