HONOLULU (KHON2) – COVID is taking a toll on hospitals once again.

Hospitals statewide are full and running above normal capacity, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

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Last week, Kona Community Hospital put up a triage tent and on Monday, Straub on King Street did too.

 “It’s because there’s so much demand in their hospital,” explained Healthcare Association of Hawaii CEO Hilton Raethel. “Especially if someone’s COVID positive, it gives them an opportunity to do that initial screening and identification outside of the actual hospital walls and do it in these tents.”

He said the tens are air-conditioned and allow the hospitals to set up tables, chairs, and cots.

“Hospitals, again, are already stretched and the continued numbers of hospitalizations just add to that challenge,” he added.

Hospital admissions have increased quickly in the last month.

On July 1, there were 40 COVID patients statewide in the hospital. On July 27 the state had over 102 COVID patients in the hospital. Two weeks later on Aug. 9, there are roughly 220 COVID patients in hospitals that are also treating other patients who need care.

And Raethel said hospitals expect admissions to increase.

“We’re still expecting our hospital numbers to increase because there is a seven to 14 day lag between the rise of infections and the positivity rate and the people showing up in our hospitals,” he said.

On Thursday, August 5, the state recorded its highest daily infection total with 655 cases, followed by three straight days of 600 plus cases. Raethel said hospitals anticipate seeing a rise in admissions later this week.

“We’ve not yet seen in our hospitals, the impact of that,” he said. “We believe that the next few weeks will be very intense for our hospitals.”

Neighbor island hospitals are already stretched.

“There are six patients in our ICU that are affected by COVID or have been affected,” explained Elena Cabatu, Hilo Medical Center Director of Marketing. “And that is a big number considering that’s more than half of our ICU beds.”

She said of the 11 patients hospitalized, 10 of them are not vaccinated.

To add more capacity, hospitals statewide are trying to transfer patients between facilities but most are at capacity and many have nurses working overtime.

“There’s a real challenge in finding placement for those patients who are ready to be discharged,” Raethel said. “We can defer the non-urgent surgeries and testing and a number of facilities already started doing that. We’re getting very close to a fairly critical point.”

The state has about 3,000 licensed beds in the entire state.

“Normally we run a census of around 2,000, that’s on average, that’s our overall census,” he explained. “Right now, we’re running a census of over 2,200. While we have 3,000 licensed beds, it doesn’t mean that every single one of those beds is available. We have capacity probably statewide for around 2,600 to 2,650 total beds to be put into use. Right now, as I said we’re running around 2,250. So we do have some surge capacity, but the surge capacity is contingent on staffing because we need to bring the staff in to be able to staff those remaining beds.”

Raethel said 22 Hawaii hospitals have requested nursing assistance. He said 50 will arrive next Monday to help hospitals on Hawaii Island.

In all, 550 nurses have been requested but the rest of the country is also in need of help.

“All of our hospitals are operating at very close to capacity right now,” Raethel said. “Again, if we had additional staff, we can make more beds available. And we’re working very, very hard to get these 550 staff into the islands, but it will take at least two to three weeks to get all of those individuals organized and coordinated to get into our hospitals.”

He said even though some employees are being mandated to take a vaccine, it will take about six weeks until they reach full immunity, which puts many people still at risk for ending up in the hospital.  

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“What we’re most concerned about is what is going to happen through the end of this month and into the first part of September, it will be critical,” he concluded. “We’ll be in a critical situation. Regardless of what happens with vaccinations. Vaccinations will help in the long term, they will not help us in the next two to four weeks.”