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Hazleton hospital struggles with COVID-19 surge

LVH-Hazleton says 50% of people in the hospital are being treated for COVID, and 79% of those patients are unvaccinated.

HAZLETON, Pa. — Officials with Lehigh Valley Health in Hazleton held a virtual news conference to discuss problems they are currently seeing at the hospital, the first being a limited number of staff members.

"Staffing shortages, the result of people retiring, people being burned out and leaving the health care workforce or moving to other positions," says LVHN Northwest Region President Terrence Purcell.

Chief medical officer Anthony Valente argues some of that burnout is from the influx of unvaccinated COVID patients infected with the omicron variant.

"More importantly, we are literally breaking the backs of the very people that two years ago, we referred to as heroes," said Valente. "These health care workers are literally being worn into the ground with a tsunami of unvaccinated COVID patients. So I implore everybody, to encourage everybody, you know, to get vaccinated."

Currently, officials say 79 percent of the people in the hospital with COVID are unvaccinated, and 90 percent of all positive COVID cases, whether those infected are vaccinated or not, is the omicron variant. It's a similar situation in all Lehigh Valley Health Network hospitals.

"I think with these breakthrough infections, I think there's a group of people or some people who think that it means that the vaccine is less effective," said Michael Evans, medical director with the Lehigh Valley Physician Group. "That is definitely not the case. It might be true that with omicron; we are seeing more breakthrough infections than we saw with other variants. But the vaccine is still very effective at keeping people out of the hospital."

Lastly, officials say their testing labs are being overrun. They advise people to stay home if they have mild symptoms that do not need immediate attention.

"If you have symptoms of COVID or have any flu-like symptoms and you take a home test that turns out positive, believe it. It's true," said Jodi Lenko, the LVH-Hazleton's Department of Medicine vice-chair. "They're very sensitive in that situation. You do not need to rush out to confirm it with a PCR test in a clinic."

If you have any questions about your symptoms, LVHN says it has many resources online for you, and that is a good place to start before rushing out to a doctor's office or emergency room.

You can access those resources by clicking here.

Watch more stories about the coronavirus pandemic on WNEP’s YouTube page.