BRICK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The very people on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 are being taken down by the virus.
Multiple hospitals in New Jersey are experiencing outbreaks among health care workers, CBS2’s Meg Baker reported Thursday.
More than 100 workers are infected at Ocean County Medical Center, leaving gaps in staffing heading towards what many health officials are fearing will be the worst of the coronavirus pandemic in January and February.
“It’s very troubling,” said Debbie White, president of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union.
White said she’s worried because there is a finite number of staff available in the state for the second surge.
“Because the rest of the country is surging. The staff that we had access to in the first wave, they’re probably occupied elsewhere already,” White said.
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Thirty workers at University Hospital in Newark are out due to COVID-19.
“Hospital workers are going to get COVID-19, not only from their exposure to COVID at work, which is certainly possible, but also in the community,” president and CEO Dr. Shereef Elnahal said.
In addition, 40 health care providers at Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen have tested positive.
Hackensack Meridian Health, which runs Palisades and Ocean County, said it has adequate staff to treat all patients for now, because only a fraction of its total clinical workforce is out.
“We probably have close to 25,000 patient-facing team members of people who are involved in direct patient care, and right now we have maybe about 700 or 800 total team members out of work,” Hackensack Meridian’s Dr. Daniel Varga said.
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Union representatives told CBS2 the cause of the outbreaks may be a lack of proper personal protective equipment, or PPE.
“We’ve received some scary reports of counterfeit PPE,” White said. “We are still not using PPE in a normalized fashion, normalized meaning when somebody goes into a COVID room they change all of their attire. When they come out, they throw it all away and get all new stuff. That is normal protocol.”
That procedure is being investigated by the New Jersey Health Department. The majority of recent cases have been nurses.
The health care workers union said there may be many more cases, but under current law hospitals are not required to report the number of COVID-Infected employees to the state.