Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Omicron is the latest blow to pandemic-weary front-line workers

BOSTON ( Associated Press) – Staff absenteeism at London hospitals for COVID-19 tripled this month, and nearly 10% of the city’s firefighters were said to be ill.

In New York, about 2,700 police officers were absent earlier this week – more than twice the number of people who get sick on an average day. And on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, grocery worker Judy Snarsky says she’s pushing her limits, working 50 hours a week and working extra hours because her supermarket has about 100 employees while she has 150K. Should be close.

“We don’t have enough hands. Everyone is working as much as they can, physically and mentally,” said the 59-year-old in Mashpi. “Some of us are going like a freight train.”

The worldwide jump in coronavirus cases driven by the new Omicron variant is the latest blow to hospitals, police departments, supermarkets and other critical operations, which are struggling to maintain a full contingent of front-line workers as the pandemic hits its third year enters.

Governments have taken steps to stop the bleeding in the many jobs essential to society, from truck drivers and watchmen to child care providers and train conductors. But nurses and other workers worry that the continued problem of staffing will put the public at greater risk and increase irritation and fatigue in their ranks.

Seattle police officer Mike Solan, who leads his city’s police union, said his department is about 300 officers down from its normal force of 1,350.

“It’s difficult for our community because they’re waiting for that call for help,” he said. “And then we’re at risk because we don’t have the proper secure numbers for a safe work environment when we answer that call for help.”

Michelle Gonzalez, a nurse at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, said she and colleagues in her intensive care unit had never actually been discharged from COVID-19, and O’Micron’s arrival only added to her post-traumatic stress. Has woken up

“Before I work, I have really bad anxiety,” she said. “If I’m out for two days, I’ll come back in a panic because I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Countries including Spain and the UK have reduced the length of COVID-19 quarantines to ease staffing shortages by allowing people to return to work as soon as possible after testing positive or exposed to the virus.

Meanwhile, in the US, states such as Massachusetts have called on hundreds of National Guard members to help fill gaps in hospitals and nursing homes where they serve food, transport patients and other non-clinical activities. operate.

In Seattle, Mayor Jenny Durkan has pledged to veto legislation that repealed the $4 an hour risk wage increase for grocery workers, which is almost a norm in some major West Coast cities, including Los Angeles and Berkeley and Long Beach, California. year in force.

“Now is not the time to withhold the pay of these important front-line workers,” the Democratic mayor said earlier this week.

Unions representing health care workers say far too many hospitals have failed to fill staff vacancies or retain staff fatigued by the pandemic.

For example, New York’s three largest hospitals alone have 1,500 nursing vacancies, or nearly double the number at the start of the pandemic, said Carl Ginsburg, a spokesman for the 42,000-member New York State Nurses Association.

“There aren’t enough nurses to do the job properly, and so there are situations where there are dangerous situations in units where patients are at risk,” he said.

In London, the UK’s Omicron epicenter, a wave of staff absenteeism is affecting hospitals as COVID-19 admissions doubled in three weeks. Officials said the latest surge will likely continue till mid-January.

“It won’t take long to cause a crisis,” said David Oliver, a consultant physician at a hospital in south-east England.

Operators of US nursing homes, which were crippled by some of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks at the start of the pandemic, are among those pleading with officials to do more.

Rachel Reeves, a spokeswoman for the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Health, said that while cases in long-term care facilities have not yet risen sharply, the industry is poised to omicron today with 15% fewer workers than when the pandemic began. Assisted Living, an industry trade group.

Nursing homes have historically struggled to compete with other health care operators because their pay rates are effectively set by the government, so providers are hopeful that President Joe Biden’s administration can boost Medicaid funding. and may create employee recruitment and retention programs.

“Carers get burned out,” Reeves said. “Not only have many people experienced tremendous loss, it is exhausting – physically and emotionally – battling this virus day in and day out.”

Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan provides $350 billion for state and local governments to provide “premium wages” to essential workers. States are also using other buckets of pandemic funds to augment their workforce.

In West Virginia, Governor Jim Justice said Tuesday that his administration will use the remaining $48 million of the state’s CARES Act on the Recruitment and Training of Nurses to meet a goal of adding more than 2,000 new nurses over the next four years.

But it is not just the health care system that is warning of dire consequences and asking for more support.

Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines, was among those who called on the Biden administration to reduce the recommended COVID-19 quarantine time to five days, or risk further disruptions to air travel.

Train operators also warned of sudden cancellations and other service issues as subways and commuter lines endure staff shortages related to COVID-19.

In the UK, train company LNER said this week it was canceling 16 trains a day until Christmas Eve. Transport for London, which operates the Metro and employs around 28,000 people, also warned of a recession as 500 front-line workers are off work due to the illness related to COVID-19.

Even small businesses such as restaurants and nail salons that are not considered essential are preparing to cut working hours further, or may close temporarily as labor shortages worsen. Huh.

Manhattan restaurant writer Brett Sensensits said labor shortages prompted him to reduce seating and eliminate staples like burgers and oysters from menus in Gotham, which reopened last month.

Company co-owner David Lockwood said Trophy Brewing in Raleigh, North Carolina, cut operating hours and decided to close three of the four business locations on New Year’s Eve.

In Washington, D.C., Dogma Daycare and Boarding for Dogs said this week that it was canceling full day care until January 3 because several staff members tested positive for COVID-19.

Daniel Schneider, a Harvard professor focused on low-income workers, said the public should keep in mind that essential workers do not have the luxury of working from home, as some Americans do.

“White-collar workers need to appreciate the real risks that these people take,” he said. “You cannot take groceries from home. You can’t stock shelves from home. ,

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D’Innocenzio reported from Sandwich, Massachusetts, and Calvan, from New York. Associated Press writers Jill Lawless and Calvin Chan in London; Josh Bok in Washington; Mike Sisak in New York; John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; and Brian Anderson in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.

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https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic . Follow up on Associated Press’s coverage of the pandemic

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