Oswego Health Ambulance entrance Dec. 2021

The city of Oswego declared a state of emergency, diverting emergency patients away from Oswego Hospital. 

OSWEGO — Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow declared a state of emergency in the Port City on Tuesday in lieu of ambulance diversions from Oswego Hospital’s emergency department.

Barlow said the state of emergency and diversions were attributed to compounding frustrations facing Oswego Health including extreme staffing shortages, a dramatic rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations, the increasing number of occupied ICU beds and the resulting impact on the ability of the hospital to treat non-COVID acute care and emergency cases.

“This cascading effect of the lack of available hospital beds pushes the burden to the streets and creates a situation that is not sustainable,” Barlow said in a Tuesday release. “Declaring this state of emergency allows the city of Oswego to act quickly with community partners to improve the situation.”

Oswego Health Chief Medical Officer Duane Tull, MD said on Tuesday that bed availability was “fluctuating” near maximum capacity and local health professionals were “addressing the available bed capacity every day.”

“We have already had to initiate our surge and flex plan opening additional bed capacity to care for the patients we are seeing. We have a high number of COVID patients and are seeing delays in discharges to other facilities,” Tull said.

In situations where the hospital faces an inability to accommodate patients, Tull said they would transfer patients to other regional hospitals such as the Syracuse’s SUNY Upstate Hospital, Upstate Community Hospital or Crouse Hospital. However, if those are unavailable as well, Tull said medical professionals will go “as far as we need” to find proper accommodations.

“Often we are going as far as Albany, Westchester and Cooperstown to find higher levels of care. For discharges we again search locally first but have had times we were required to search beyond 500 miles to find suitable accepting facilities,” he said.

Barlow said on Tuesday that Oswego County’s 11.7 percent seven-day COVID positivity rate average — the highest it has reached throughout the pandemic’s course — “threatens the public safety of the citizens.”

The Oswego County Health Department reported on Monday that 739 residents were actively fighting positive cases throughout the area, marking the highest local positive caseload in recent months.

Oswego County Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang said in a statement that while the county continues to fight this unprecedented caseload, COVID-19-related deaths are also occurring.

According to a Monday report, the county health department said an additional five residents died over the course of the previous week in connection to the coronavirus, bringing the total number of local deaths associated with COVID to 138 since the county started tracking the coronavirus in March of 2020.

“In addition to this increase in cases, we’ve seen more vulnerable residents hospitalized and dying in recent weeks,” Huang said. “Our health care system is under stress and our community remains at a high level of virus transmission.”

Tull said there was no definitive timeline until the hospital’s bed availability would return to normal.

“As far as returning to normal, the best defense, especially with flu season upon us, is for the community to get vaccinated and boosted for both COVID and the flu,” Tull said.

Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup echoed Tull’s thoughts and urged the community to get inoculated to combat the county’s high COVID transmission rate.

“If you have not been vaccinated yet, now is time to get your shot, not only to protect yourself, but your family and friends, and your community as well,” Weatherup said.

Barlow on Tuesday lauded the city staff inoculation rate, pointing to the roughly 82 percent of city employees who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“As another variant emerges, vaccines remain the key component to defeating COVID for good,” the mayor said.

The health department’s COVID-19 vaccine clinics are open to anyone 12 and older. Children ages 5 to 11 years can get the pediatric vaccine through their school district, local pharmacies or health care provider. The Pfizer (Comirnaty) vaccine is approved for those ages 5 and older. The Moderna and Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved for those 18 years and older.

For more information, visit at health.oswegocounty.com/covid-19 or call the Oswego County Health Department’s COVID-19 Hotline at 315-349-3330. Phone lines are open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.