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Banner Health’s Intensive Care Unit capacity has been unseasonably high for the past four weeks, said Banner Health Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel said in a Wednesday press conference.

The total ICU patients at Banner exceeds that of the summer 2020 COVID surge.

“The main problem is that we have too many COVID patients in our hospitals,” Bessel said.

Bessel cited recent figures showing that 90% of COVID patients in ICU beds and on ventilators are unvaccinated.

Banner’s problems are compounded by the difficulty of keeping skilled staff. Bessel said hospital staff are worn out after fighting COVID for the past year and a half.

Banner is looking to fill positions for nurses, respiratory therapists, clinicians, and physicians. Bessel said this is the most necessary resource strained by COVID surges. Banner has been and continues to hire out-of-state contract labor every week to meet hospital needs.

Bessel pleaded with the unvaccinated public to make a vaccine appointment ahead of the projected winter surge. It is expected that COVID, flu and respiratory virus infections will increase during the winter.

The Pzifer vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 is under evaluation and Bessel said she expected to hear results as soon as Halloween.

“For individuals who are under the age of 5, my understanding is that those studies are still ongoing and do not have any date when scientific data might be available,” Bessel said.

 

While Pfizer vaccines for children under 12 are being evaluated, booster shots are now available for qualifying individuals. Pfizer booster shots can be found at local pharmacies. The FDA and the CDC expanded their vaccine recommendations to allow adults over 65, individuals with underlying health conditions, and essential workers to receive the Pfizer booster shot. 

The booster shot is only recommended for individuals who received the original Pfizer vaccines. So far, health officials have not made a call on booster shots for the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“So all health care systems are able to be available for you and your families that need us, please get vaccinated against COVID,” Bessel said.

Bessel also warned the public about West Nile virus. She said sister hospitals are experiencing more cases of West Nile virus due to a heavy monsoon season creating a rich breeding environment for mosquitos that carry the virus.

“If you're going outside and you live in an area that has a lot of mosquitoes, wear mosquito repellent,” she said. “Also, if you have a backyard or anywhere else where there's standing water, please try and make sure that you reduce that.”

According to the CDC, people infected with West Nile virus experience fever, severe illnesses, and even death. There are no vaccines or medications to treat West Nile virus.

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