ANDERSON TWP, Ohio. — New CDC research found excess hospital deaths two to six weeks after patients sick with COVID-19 crowded hospital intensive care units.
The trend testing capacity limits confirms what the chief clinical officer at Mercy Health suspected: a close connection between COVID death rates and ICU occupancy numbers that haunts at least one patient.
Darell Jones spent 28 days in the ICU on a ventilator, and then woke up panicked. He tried to escape three times. A year and a half later, he has no taste, no smell and struggles to think clearly until asked about the sore spot he shares with hospital staff.
"I was trippin'," Jones said. "I wanted to get out of there, but the people, the professionals, the doctors, the nurses, everyone played a vital role in getting help. I feel not lucky, I feel blessed. I feel like I'm a miracle. I'll tell you, you think you can handle it. No, you can't handle it."
A new Centers for Disease Control report examined hospital ICU data from July 2020 to July 2021. Researchers found critical work strained every time the hospital saw a surge in ICU patients seeking treatment for COVID-19. Deaths rose two to six weeks later.
Mercy Health's Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Stephen Feagins said Tri-State health systems experienced this cycle, and each time worry about worst-case scenarios.
"What if there was a big bomb," Feagins said. "What if there was a mass casualty accident? So you have to at any time know where you are with capacity [in ICUs]."
While elective surgeries typically pause when hospitals experience significant strain, regional hospitals work together to ensure no critical needs get ignored. Still, the CDC report encourages state and local public health leaders to beef up prevention strategies.
"This is why we want to keep people out of the hospitals," said Dr. O'Dell Owens, Cincinnati Health Commissioner. "Vaccination is number one. Then, if you have [an anti-viral] pill to cover the breakthrough infections until we get fully immunized, then that will also help to cut down."
Six months after Jones celebrated full vaccination, he accepted a booster shot and enrolled for treatment at UC Health's Post COVID-19 clinic, the only one in the region specializing in post-acute sequelae (PASC), often called "long haul symptoms" of coronavirus.
Jones is now self-employed, selling advertisement space on his SUV, but he feels driven by a bigger purpose: protecting others from his nightmare in ICU.
"To prevent that, get your shot and you'll have a better chance of not having that happen," Jones said.