A few months ago, my colleagues and I discussed the possibility of doing a story on triage, or “crisis standards of care,” in hospitals. At the time, in early fall, a few states were experiencing surges in COVID-19 cases, and we hoped to bring a story to our readers about the ethical decisions that health care workers face during a COVID surge. But then the tide changed, and caseloads across the country began dropping dramatically. In the news business, that meant our story was no longer timely. We were relieved to move on to other topics since triage was no longer in the news.

Sadly, that’s no longer the case. Right before Thanksgiving, COVID-19 case numbers began to trend upward yet again. And then omicron surfaced.

Here in Colorado, where I’m based, hospitals have been operating in various phases of triage care throughout most of the COVID-19 pandemic. As Matthew Wynia, an infectious disease specialist and director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus, explains, crisis standards of care don’t turn on and off like a light switch. Contingency measures may change day to day and week to week, depending on what resource is in limited supply.

In today’s “front lines” piece about crisis care, Wynia describes in raw detail the impossible choices that health care staff have faced during different phases of the pandemic, and how those decisions translate into heartbreaking conversations with patients and their loved ones. “In a few important ways, the situation has changed,” Wynia writes. “Today, our hospitals have plenty of ventilators, but not enough staff to run them. Stress and burnout are taking their toll.”

Also today:

Amanda Mascarelli

Senior Health and Medicine Editor

Amid the latest surge of COVID-19 cases, health care workers yet again are having to make difficult triage decisions in caring for patients. Morsa Images/E+ via Getty Images

During a COVID-19 surge, ‘crisis standards of care’ involve excruciating choices and impossible ethical decisions for hospital staff

Matthew Wynia, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

A physician-bioethicist reflects on how health professionals are yet again facing painful reminders of the early months of the pandemic.

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Today's graphic

Percentage of respondents of each gender who reported experiencing the following situations in a survey taken in May 2021.

From the story, Surveys of scientists show women and young academics suffered most during the pandemic and may face long-term career consequences

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