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Expert: 'Pandemic among the unvaccinated' could lead to worst winter surge yet

Since August, many hospitals have been in “surge mode” with cases climbing.

INDIANAPOLIS — Health experts call it "a pandemic among the unvaccinated" and as the winter months approach, some fear that could cause the worst surge yet.  

“I am worried about the way the winter is going to go and I am worried about the people who are unvaccinated,” said Dr. Gabriel Bosslet, a pulmonary critical care physician at IU Health and associate professor of clinical medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine. 

This week, Bosslet tweeted a warning to Hoosiers.

“Looks like this winter may be the worst surge yet," his post read. "The only patients I have cared for in the ICU in the past weeks have been unvaccinated. If you have not been vaccinated, now is the time. If you are due for a 3rd shot, get it now.” 

“If people would just get vaccinated, 95 percent of the people I meet in the intensive care unit, I would not meet. Things would be normal. So it is hard because I don’t know what else to do to make people understand what this is like,” Bosslet said.  

Since August, hospitals have been in “surge mode” with cases climbing.  

Data from across IU Health shows, in August, there were 107 patients hospitalized with COVID-19. The hospital system reached its peak in September with 425 patients. As of Tuesday, they had 328.  

Number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at IU Health:

  • 6/1/2021: 90 
  • 7/1/2021: 50 
  • 8/1/2021: 107 
  • 9/1/2021: 303 
  • 9/11/2021 425 
  • 10/1/2021: 322 
  • 11/1/2021: 213 
  • 11/30/2021 328

They are not alone. Ascension St. Vincent has also noticed an increase. There were 33 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 across Ascension St. Vincent Indianapolis hospitals on Thursday. Six of them were in the ICU.  

Number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at Ascension St. Vincent:

  • June: 256 
  • July: 426 
  • August: 1222 
  • September: 1830 
  • October: 808 
  • November: 824 

It’s known that COVID-19 thrives in cold weather, especially around the holidays when people are gathering, but this year, health officials are worried about the more contagious variants and the threat of more flu cases. Also, healthcare workers are short-staffed and tired. 

RELATED: Indiana coronavirus updates: 5,653 new cases reported

“We are exhausted, emotionally exhausted. It’s really hard to see this many people die,” Bosslet said. 

Many health care workers said it feels like déjà vu because around this time last year, Indiana reached its peak with more than 3,400 Hoosiers hospitalized. This year, the number is lower, with more than 2,300 admitted, but some worry it's just the start.  

“What makes it even more difficult is that we just have a lot more patients in our hospital. We have more patients in our hospital than we ever have,” said Dr. Ram Yeleti, chief physician executive at Community Health Network. 

RELATED: Pushing COVID-19 boosters, Biden says 'we need to be ready' this winter

Yeleti said it’s not all COVID-19 patients, but the concern is beds are filling up at an alarming rate, causing hospitals like Community Health Network to start preparing.  

“Right now, our staff and our leadership have been instructed this week to look at contingency plans if every one in three or every one in four beds is a COVID patient what do we do,” Yeleti said.  

One option he said is to delay surgeries and other services, which would affect even more Hoosiers in need of care.  

“Get the vaccination not just for yourself but for your family member and for your neighbor because one of you may have a health condition that needs a hospital bed and there may not be one,” he said.  

On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced vaccinations as a key part of his plan to prevent another winter surge, especially as the omicron variant starts spreading across the country. 

The five-step plan includes increasing booster shots and vaccinations among kids as young as five. The White House also wants to distribute COVID-19 treatment pills around the country as soon as they're approved. They plan to work on expanding free at-home testing for those who struggle to afford it and extend transportation mask mandates through March. Lastly, if you're flying into the country from overseas, you'll have to test negative within 24 hours of your flight. 

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