Omicron is the latest blow for pandemic-tired frontline workers | Washington News


By PHILIP MARCELO, ANNE D’INNOCENZIO and BOBBY CAINA CALVAN, Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) – COVID-19 employee absences have tripled in London’s hospitals this month, and nearly 10% of the city’s firefighters called in sick.

In New York, about 2,700 police officers were absent earlier this week – twice as many as on an average day. And on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, grocery worker Judy Snarsky says she has reached her limit, working 50 hours a week and doing extra tasks because her supermarket has about 100 workers when it should be closer to 150.

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

The global surge in coronavirus cases caused by the new variant of Omicron is the latest blow to hospitals, law enforcement agencies, supermarkets and other critical establishments struggling to keep a full contingent of frontline workers when the pandemic hits them third year enters.

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Governments have taken steps to curb bleeding in a number of jobs deemed essential to society, from truck drivers and janitors to childcare workers and train attendants. But nurses and other workers fear that persistent staffing problems put the public at greater risk and increase burnout and fatigue among their ranks.

Seattle Police Officer Mike Solan, who heads his city’s police union, said his department had about 300 officers, the usual 1,350 strength.

“It is difficult for our church because they are waiting for this call for help,” he said. “And then we’re at risk because we don’t have the right secure numbers to create 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 her intensive care colleagues never really had a break from COVID-19, and the arrival of Omicron only rekindled her post-traumatic stress.

“I get really terrified of work,” she said. “When I have two days off, I panic back because I don’t know what I’m getting myself into.”

Countries like Spain and the UK have cut the duration of COVID-19 quarantines to alleviate staff shortages by allowing people to return to work earlier after testing positive or exposure to the virus.

In the United States, states like Massachusetts have now called in hundreds of National Guard members to fill the gaps in hospitals and nursing homes where they serve meals, move patients, and do other non-clinical work.

In Seattle, Mayor Jenny Durkan has vetoed laws that suspend a $ 4 an hour raise for grocery workers in some major west coast cities, including Los Angeles and Berkeley and Long Beach, California, for almost one Year is in effect.

“Now is not the time to cut wages for these critical frontline workers,” the Democratic mayor said earlier this week.

Unions representing healthcare workers complain that far too many hospitals have failed to fill vacancies or keep pandemic workers.

For example, there are 1,500 open nursing homes in New York’s three largest hospitals alone, or about twice as many as at the start of the pandemic, said Carl Ginsberg, a spokesman for the 42,000-member New York State Nurses Association.

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

In London, the UK’s omicron epicenter, a wave of staff absenteeism hits hospitals as COVID-19 admissions have doubled in three weeks. The latest surge is likely to continue through mid-January, officials said.

“It doesn’t take much to start a crisis,” said David Oliver, a consultant doctor at a hospital in south east England.

U.S. nursing home operators, crippled by some of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks at the start of the pandemic, are among those urging officials to do more.

While cases in long-term care facilities have not yet soared, the industry is preparing for Omicron with 15% fewer employees today than when the pandemic began, said Rachel Reeves, a spokeswoman for the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living, said Rachel Reeves, an industrial trade group.

Nursing homes have historically struggled to compete with other health care providers as their salary rates are effectively set by the government, she said.

“Nurses are burned out,” Reeves said. “Not only have many suffered enormous losses, it has also been exhausting – physically and emotionally – fighting this virus day in and day out.”

Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan provides $ 350 billion to state and local governments to provide a “bonus payment” to key workers. States are also using other buckets of pandemic funds to strengthen their workforce.

In West Virginia, Governor Jim Justice said Tuesday that his administration will use $ 48 million of the state’s remaining CARES Act funds to recruit and train nurses in an effort to meet the goal of more than 2,000 over the next four years add new nurses.

But it is not just the health systems that warn of dire consequences and seek more support.

Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines, was among those who have urged the Biden government to reduce the recommended COVID-19 quarantine times to five days or to risk further disruption to air traffic.

Rail operators are also warning of sudden outages and other service issues as subways and commuter lines suffer from COVID-19-related staff shortages.

In the UK, rail company LNER announced this week that it will be canceling 16 trains a day until Christmas Eve. Transport for London, which operates the tube and employs around 28,000 people, also warned of slowdowns as 500 frontline workers are unable to work due to a COVID-19-related illness.

Even small businesses like restaurants and nail salons, which are not considered essential, are preparing to cut working hours further or to close them for a short time if the labor shortage worsens.

Manhattan restaurateur Bret Csencsitz said the labor shortage caused him to reduce seating and remove staples like burgers and oysters from the menu at Gotham, which reopened last month.

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

In Washington, DC, DogMa Daycare & Boarding For Dogs said this week that all-day care will be canceled until January 3 because several employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

Daniel Schneider, a Harvard professor who focuses on low-income workers, said the public should be concerned that important workers simply do not have the luxury of working from home, as some Americans do.

“Employees need to be aware of the real risks these people are taking,” he said. “You can’t call shopping from home. You can’t stock shelves from home. “

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

Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

Copyright 2021 Associated press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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