HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Healthcare Association of Hawaii is concerned about staffing shortages and a potential COVID-19 hospital surge with the omicron variant.

On Monday, workers were seen putting up a tent outside the emergency department at Queen’s Medical Center at Punchbowl. It’s the third time the hospital has put up a tent outside the emergency department since the pandemic began.

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Hilton Raethel, CEO and president of Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said Queen’s isn’t the only hospital to request a tent ahead of a potential surge.

For now, hospitals are putting up the tents as a precaution, because hospitalizations soared quickly during the delta surge over the summer. Raethel said it’s to make more room for covid patients.

Queen’s said the tent will hopefully be up and running towards the end of the week, and that it will help provide better separation between COVID and non-COVID patients.

Raethel said medical officers statewide will discuss the CDC’s recommendation made last week that adjusted guidelines for healthcare workers, which recommended that vaccinated healthcare workers not quarantined if they are exposed to the virus, and workers who test positive and are asymptomatic can return to work after seven days with a negative COVID test.   

The CDC went further to say the isolation time can be cut for asymptomatic workers if there are staffing shortages, and that healthcare workers who received all recommended vaccines and a booster, do not need to quarantine following high-risk exposure.

“We have more than a few hundred individuals out right now across the state, and as the infection rate continues to increase and the positivity rate continues to increase that means it’s going to impact more of health care workers as well,” Raethel explained.

He said the high infection rate will impact hospital beds too.

“How high it’s going to go, we don’t know yet. But it could be very easily double or even triple what we have today,” he said.

As of Monday, he said there are 100 COVID patients hospitalized, up nearly 50% from last Monday.

“Things could get very tight between the number of staff that is out, and because of being exposed or tested positive, and because of the potential surge,” he explained.

“We want to make sure we take care of our patients, but at the same time, we want to protect them as well, and so what is that balance? And that’s the discussions we are having right now,” Raethel said.

He said another big concern is the positivity rate jumping 1% each day, and that it shows there is a lot of COVID in the community.

“We’re hoping blows through fairly quickly, the question though, is how much damage is it going to inflict before it blows through and it’s going to create, unfortunately, quite a bit of damage in this state,” he said.

He said the overwhelming majority of healthcare workers in the state are fully vaccinated and very few of them will end up hospitalized.  

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“Right now, the guidance is still 10 days for them to be out, and it depends on when their symptoms occur if they have symptoms if they don’t have symptoms, as to when that 10 day starts, but we do follow the current guidance, and we may be adjusting that guidance later this weekend in consultation with Department of Health,” he concluded.