As the Omicron variant continues to cause mayhem on a global scale, frontline workers are now dealing with the blow leading to staff absence as in the case of London’s hospital which has tripled in recent months.
According to an AP News report, nearly 10% of the city’s firefighters called out sick while in New York, nearly 2,700 police officers were absent earlier in the week.
According to a grocery worker in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Judy Snarsky, she had works 50 hours a week and does extra tasks due to the fact that her supermarket has about 100 workers instead of 150 – so she and others handle more tasks.
“We don’t have enough hands. Everybody is working as much as they physically and mentally can,” the 59-year-old in Mashpee said. “Some of us have been going like a freight train.”
The omicron surge is now affecting frontline workers in several departments including hospitals, police departments, supermarkets, and every other critical operation – all of which are struggling to operate in their full capacity as their workers are falling sick.
The pandemic is certainly entering its third year and despite efforts by governments to curb the spread by re-introducing lockdown in some parts of the world or vaccine mandate, the new omicron variant continues to be the main point of concern among research experts.
Governments have reportedly taken steps to reduce the negative effects of the new surge across various sectors in order to keep the society and economy running.
However, the adverse impact of the pandemic on frontline workers is causing panic as it could potentially put the general public at greater risk and increase burnout and fatigue due to understaffing.
According to a Seattle police officer Mike Solan who leads his city’s police union made it known that some 300 officers from its usual 1,350 officers are down to sickness.
“It’s difficult for our community because they’re waiting for that call for help,” he said. “And then we’re at risk because we don’t have the proper safe numbers to have a safe working environment when we answer that call for help.”
Another individual is a nurse at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, Michelle Gonzalez who said she and her fellow ICU colleagues never truly had a break from COVID-19 and their worst nightmare was confirmed with the omicron variant which is leading to a reawakening of her PTSD.
“Prior to work, I get really bad anxiety,” she said. “If I’ve been off for two days, I will come back in a panic because I don’t know what I’m walking into.”
In other countries such as Spain and the United Kingdom have reduced the length of COVID-19 quarantines in order to ease staffing shortages.
With that, people are able to return back to their work sooner even after testing positive or being exposed to the virus by any means.
However, in the United States, regions like Massachusetts have called in a number of military personnel to help fill the gaps in hospitals and nursing homes where they help serve meals, transport patients and do other nonclinical tasks.
In Seattle, Mayor Jenny Durkan has promised to veto legislation repealing a $4 an hour hazard pay raise for grocery workers, which has been in place for nearly a year in some major West Coast cities, including Los Angeles and Berkeley and Long Beach, California.
“Now is not the time to roll back the pay for these critical front-line workers,” the Democratic mayor said earlier this week.
Also, unions that represent health care workers failed to fill staff vacancies or to retain pandemic-weary staff.
A good example of such is the case of some 1,500 nursing vacancies in New York’s three largest hospitals alone.
“There are not enough nurses to do the job right, and so there are situations where the units have dangerous conditions, where patients are in jeopardy,” he said.
And back to London which is the current epicenter of the omicron variant in the UK, the case of frontline staff absence is affecting operations in several hospitals with the number increasing in about three weeks.
The latest surge will probably persist until mid-January, officials said.
“It wouldn’t take much to cause a crisis,” said David Oliver, a consultant physician at a hospital in southeast England.
Rachel Reeves, a spokesperson for the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living said that different industries are bracing for adverse impacts of the omicron wave with about 15% fewer workers currently on duty compared to the start of the pandemic.
Nursing homes historically struggle to compete with other health care operators because their pay rates are effectively fixed by the government, she said, so providers hope President Joe Biden’s administration can boost Medicaid funding and create staff recruitment and retention programs.
“Caregivers are burned out,” Reeves said. “Not only have much experienced tremendous loss, but it has also been exhausting — physically and emotionally — battling this virus day in and day out.”
The current administration under the leadership of President Joe Biden has pledged about a US$1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan with US$350 billion going to states and local governments to provide “premium pay” to essential workers.
States are also using other buckets of pandemic funds to bolster their workforce.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice made it known on Tuesday that his administration will pledge some US$48 million of the state’s remaining CARES Act money on hiring and training nurses to help meet a goal of adding more than 2,000 new nurses over the next four years.
But it’s not just health care systems warning of dire consequences and seeking more support.
In other sectors such as airlines, Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines also called on the Biden administration to cut recommended COVID-19 quarantine times down to five days or risk further disruptions in air travel.
Also, train operators warn of sudden cancellations and other service issues such as subways and commuter lines all of which have endured COVID-19-related staff shortage.
In the U.K., train company LNER said this week that it’s canceling 16 trains a day until Christmas Eve. Transport for London, which operates the subway and employs about 28,000 people, also warned of slowdowns because 500 front-line staff are off work because of COVID-19-related illness.
Small businesses are also hard hit by the pandemic with places such as restaurants and salons all of which could potentially shut down operations briefly in case of workers shortage.
A Manhattan restaurateur Bret Csencsitz made it known that labor shortage led him to reduce seating as well as eliminate staples like burgers and oysters from the menu at Gotham after reopening back this past month.
Trophy Brewing in Raleigh, North Carolina, cut operating hours and decided to close three of the business’ four locations early on New Year’s Eve, said David Lockwood, the company’s co-owner.
Also in Washington D.C., DogMa Daycare & Boarding for Dogs announced this week that it was canceling all daycare until Jan. 3rd due to the fact that a sizeable number of its staff tested positive for COVID-19.
Daniel Schneider, a Harvard professor focused on low-income workers, said the public should keep in mind that essential workers simply don’t have the luxury of working from home, as some Americans do.
“White-collar workers need to appreciate the real risks that these folks take,” he said. “You can’t ring up groceries from home. You can’t stock shelves from home.”