Dr. Catherine O’Neal is at her wit’s end, and who can blame her, really? On July 11, the infectious disease specialist with Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge offered a pretty dire warning to Louisiana residents: “If you don’t choose the vaccine, you’re choosing death.” While it sounds like a pretty simple choice, clearly not everyone was listening or agrees. Because now, more than two weeks later, Dr. O’Neal was back at the podium to give an update on the situation at Our Lady of the Lake — the state’s biggest hospital — and it wasn’t good:
“Just over two weeks ago we stood here with 36 COVID-19 patients in the hospital. Today we have 155, which is our max from last April 2020. It doesn’t sound like a lot, honestly, when you think about numbers. But we are the largest hospital in the state. We have almost 800 beds; we have 713 people admitted today. And no one diagnosis should take up a quarter of your hospital. It doesn’t happen. It’s not imaginable, except for now. And we can’t tolerate it, because it’s putting incredible pressure on the rest of our patients and our hospital staff.”
O’Neal went on to detail that when she last looked, they had 23 patients from smaller hospitals and medical facilities with no access to long-term emergency services in need of ER beds. And that she and her colleagues were desperately trying, and failing, to find ways to accommodate them. But it’s not just COVID patients who are suffering. Because these patients are putting a strain on both the hospital’s physical space and resources, individuals who enter the ER for non-COVID-related issues (like a heart attack or stroke) are suffering, too. “When you come inside our walls, it is quite obvious,,, that these are the darkest days of this pandemic,” she said. “We no longer think we’re giving adequate care to anybody because these are the darkest days of the pandemic.”
The silver lining, if you can call it that, is that O’Neal says there are two easy ways that everyone can help lessen the severity of the situation: get vaccinated, and wear a mask.
“Vaccination is going to get us there, but it will not get us there fast enough. And we will lose our friends and our colleagues because of it. But if we put on our masks, as we’ve done through the last several surges, we will see a decrease in hospitalizations again and that will give us time for the vaccination to work. Those who got vaccinated in the last two weeks already have protection and I doubt that I will ever see them in our hospital due to COVID-19. And if you get vaccinated today and you mask up, I doubt that I’ll ever see you.”
You can watch her full update above.