I Just Came Back From A COVID Hotspot: It's Bad. Real Bad.

Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa

Emergency Room Sign - Courtesy Medika Life

“No, ma’am. That’s all I’m going to say about that.”

That was the response of a young barista at the coffee shop I was in when she asked whether she was going to get vaccinated. I could only shake my head as I left with my iced latte. And shaking my head in sheer exasperation is all I can do with this current surge in Covid cases.

I just came back from a Covid hotspot, helping staff an intensive care unit in the South. It was bad. Really bad. The hospital and the ICU are filling up with patients, many of them very sick with Covid.

The first day I was there, the hospital was almost full, and there were dozens waiting in the Emergency Room to get beds in the hospital. So, the middle of the afternoon, they erected triage tents in front of the Emergency Department. I never thought – this far into the pandemic – I would ever see those tents again.

Yet, there they were, being absolutely necessary to handle the continuous wave of patients hitting the hospital Emergency Department for all sorts of ailments, not just Covid. Still, the numbers of Covid patients are rising every day, and it is simply exhausting.

Unlike the previous surges, these Covid patients are young, in their 20s-50s. Many of them have no comorbidities and were previously healthy. And they are sick. Very sick. And the worst part? The vast, vast majority – well over 90% – are unvaccinated against Covid-19. This is what is so exasperating.

The vaccines against Covid-19 are widely available in the United States now, free of charge to anyone and everyone. Everyone 12 years of age or older is eligible. The vaccines are incredibly safe and incredibly effective at preventing death and severe illness from Covid.

And yet, so many – like that young woman in the coffee shop – simply refuse to take the shot. As a result, many of them are coming into the hospital gasping for air, going on ventilators, and then dying from Covid weeks later. Every death from Covid has been horrible and senseless, but in this era of widely available vaccines, the deaths are even more senseless than before.

This is why I shake my head in exasperation.

Yes, there are some fully vaccinated people who have gotten infected. That is not surprising. That does not mean the vaccines don’t work. On the contrary, the vaccines are working because the surges in cases and hospitalizations are occurring in those areas of the country with low vaccination rates. The real world data clearly demonstrate just how effective these vaccines have been.

And yet, so many don’t want to be vaccinated, and they are largely the ones who are getting sick and dying from Covid. And I’ve seen them up close in the ICU, and it is frightening to see.

I had hoped we would be over Covid by this summer. I had hoped our country would finally take a breath of relief from this virus. Sadly, this is not the case. I feel for my colleagues all over the country who have not had a break from this pandemic. We are all exhausted from the horrors of what we saw last year and early this year. And now, we have to endure this all over again.

This is why I shake my head in exasperation. I am fighting with every cell in my body not to give in to anger.

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Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa is a NY Times featured Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine specialist in clinical practice for over 20 years. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Medicine, Critical Care Medicine, and Sleep Medicine. He is a prolific writer, with dozens of peer-reviewed scientific articles and medical blog posts. He is a Physician Leader and published author. His latest book is "Code Blue," a medical thriller.

Chicago, IL

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