The chief executive officers of the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals of Cleveland and MetroHealth Medical Center today warned the public of concerning trends with COVID-19 patients. If the number of COVID-19 infections continues to spiral out of control, they said, hospital systems will be overwhelmed.

President and CEO of MetroHealth Dr. Akram Boutros, President of University Hospitals Dr. Cliff Megerian and President and CEO of the Cleveland Clinic Dr. Tom Mihaljevic held a joint press conference on Monday (Nov. 16) to explain that northeast Ohio is at a turning point with the coronavirus. Dr. Mihaljevic said that this is a critical time.

“What we face is perhaps the most sobering situation during this pandemic. It is a turning point in the truest sense and the part to do what is right is now in the hands of each member of every community,” Dr. Mihaljevic said. “We know how to better treat this disease through innovative therapeutics. However, if we continue at the rate we are going, our hospitals will be overwhelmed.”

He said that 450 beds at Cleveland Clinic locations are occupied by COVID-19 patients, about 8-9 percent of their total beds. They are averaging about 60 new COVID-19 patients per day and more than 800 caregivers are out sick.

Dr. Boutros said that the MetroHealth system is at about 80 percent occupancy and 60 staffers are out sick. Dr. Megerian said that University Hospitals has 200 COVID-19 patients, which is about 9 percent of their bed capacity. About 200 employees are “sidelined” with the coronavirus, he said.

Dr. Megerian said that the hospital leaders are concerned about Thanksgiving next week. This holiday usually includes extended family members of all ages gathering in an enclosed space in close quarters. He said that this is not the year to have large family gatherings for Thanksgiving.

“No matter how hard you try, when you’re with family and you’re in a home, the safeguards start going down. That means the masking, the distancing, the hugging,” Dr. Megerian said. “I know it’s a terrible thing to say, but it’s easier to say now that we know that we have a potential game-changer at hand. Not one, but two vaccines and potentially some amazing therapeutics. So I would say to rethink how Thanksgiving is celebrated.”

Dr. Boutros said that the number of calls to the free COVID-19 hotline is the highest it has been since March. He said that the test positivity rates have increased to nearly one positive for every four tests. The healthcare workers, however, are not getting infected at work. Dr. Boutros said that they are contracting the virus through other interactions, such as going to church or visiting a restaurant.

“If we have many of our staff out due to exposure while there is a large influx of COVID-19 patients, we will not be able to provide the best care to everyone who needs it,” he said. “So I’m asking you, everyone in the community to be even more vigilant about washing hands, watching your distance and wearing a mask. There is a light at the end of this tunnel.”

Gov. Mike DeWine continues to host press conferences several times a week to update the public on the COVID-19 pandemic. His briefings are often televised and are live streamed at ohiochannel.org.

On Monday, Ohio had 298,000 confirmed COVID-19 and 5,733 deaths since record keeping began in March.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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