Marisa Peryer, Senior Photographer

As the COVID-19 case count rises in the state of Connecticut, the Yale New Haven Health System is also seeing an uptick in coronavirus hospitalizations and infections among hospital staff.

YNHH CEO Marna Borgstrom explained in a press conference on Tuesday that, as of that morning, 64 COVID-19 positive patients were hospitalized in the YNHH system — approximately two and a half times last week’s numbers. YNHH Media Relations Coordinator Mark D’Antonio wrote in an email to the News that, over the last two to three weeks, 60 YNHH employees have tested positive for the virus.

“We are … seeing a slight uptick in the number of caregivers coming down with the virus,” said Chief Medical Officer Thomas Balcezak during the press conference. “Much of that is community spread, but when it is community spread, the providers … work in close proximity with other providers in our institutions, [so] it gives us the opportunity, unfortunately, for there to be in-hospital … spread between those providers, so it really is incumbent upon all of us to stay safe.”

Borgstrom noted that because of the uptick in cases, hospital staff is growing increasingly busy. The rise in case counts has brought along new obligations, which add onto the workload of YNHH employees.

Vincent Petrini, chief policy and communications officer, added during the press conference that the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the YNHH system had risen to 64 on Tuesday from 43 on Friday. But he also explained that, despite the increase, the figures still represent less than 10 percent of the hospitalization numbers seen during the height of the pandemic in the spring.

29 of those patients are hospitalized at YNHH, 14 are at Bridgeport Hospital, 13 are at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital and eight are at Greenwich Hospital, Borgstrom said. As of Tuesday morning, there were no COVID-19 inpatients at Westerly Hospital.

D’Antonio also emphasized that the 60 new staff cases represent a fraction of the approximately 27,000 total employees across the entire YNHH system.

In a statement to the News, D’Antonio wrote that there was recently a “small number” of employees who work in a patient care unit at YNHH who tested positive for the virus. He described the occurrence as consistent with the statewide uptick in case counts as cities reopened, and added that all employees and physicians who may have transited through that floor were notified and tested.

Balcezak noted that among health care workers, there is typically a culture of persevering and powering through, even when they are not feeling their best.

“I think many individuals, some in health care but even outside of health care, see it as a badge of honor to soldier through when they’re not feeling their best and tough it out,” Balcezak said. “Well, when you tough it out, if you happen to have COVID-19, you’re also putting an awful lot of people at risk.”

Balcezak emphasized that YNHH leadership has been encouraging employees to take their temperatures consistently and, if they experience any symptoms at all, to stay at home and limit the potential for exposure.

Rajiv Mallipudi, the COVID-19 physician lead for the division of hospital medicine at YNHH Bridgeport Hospital, said that while hospital staff get tested if they develop symptoms, there is currently no required daily testing regimen in place.

Mallipudi also said that YNHH Bridgeport has not experienced “a huge internal outbreak” during the pandemic, mostly because of the adherence to and effectiveness of their preventative measures.

“We really hold each other accountable with our social distancing and mass protocol in the hospital, around patients and around each other,” Mallipudi said.

Borgstrom described a “200 percent accountability” approach within YNHH — which involves politely but firmly emphasizing the importance of compliance to safety protocols for collective protection.

Balcezak said that in addition to previous guidance, the hospital is now asking that employees wear goggles or face shields, in accordance with recent CDC recommendations. Face shields, Balcezak added, are especially important when employees are dealing with patients who are not wearing masks.

He also said he believes that the hospital is adequately prepared on the supply front for the possibility of subsequent coronavirus waves. But he explained that his main concern is that the YNHH staff is fatigued in light of the protracted nature of the pandemic.

“I think this slight uptick that Marna referenced … [has] an emotional toll on a lot of us,” Balcezak said. “We’ve been through this once already … the idea that we might be facing it again I think requires us to just double down on our thanks to our staff, our thanks to our healthcare providers, and also [the need for] attention to one another’s wellbeing.”

YNHH is located at 20 York St.

Maria Fernanda Pacheco | maria.pacheco@yale.edu