Delta variant sparks growing concern for spine surgeons


COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to spike, particularly in regions with higher levels of community transmission and lower vaccination rates, and spine surgeons are worried that elective surgeries in these areas could be affected once again.

Despite the availability of vaccines, some states, including Texas and Florida, are experiencing significant increases in the number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations.

Many hospital-based surgeons are again concerned that their facilities will be overwhelmed, which will cause further delays for elective surgeries, many of which were already delayed during last year's peak of the pandemic.

"My concern is that working at a university hospital we will once again become overloaded with COVID-19 patients that will severely limit our ability to provide urgent care," William Taylor, MD, of University of California San Diego, told Becker's. "Much of our spine practices encompass urgent patients rather than emergent, but surgery often needs to be completed quickly and safely. If our hospitals fill with COVID-19 patients once again, our ability to provide service may become affected."

In a July 29 report, the CDC warned that the "war has changed" against COVID-19 as the delta variant appears to be as contagious as chickenpox and could cause more severe illness than previous strains.

"The current quickly-spreading delta variant reminds us that we have not emerged from this world-changing disease, and that we do not fully understand or control the spread of the virus," said Nitin Bhatia, MD, of Orange,Calif.-based UCI Health. "With increasing disease numbers, healthcare institutions, and healthcare workers, may once again be overwhelmed, even though vaccines are widely available in our country."

Over the next six months, the spread of the delta variant will remain the biggest concern for the healthcare community, according to Richard Chua, MD, of Northwest NeuroSpecialists in Tucson, Ariz.

Will the spike in cases lead to further staffing challenges, a lack of hospital beds, or hamper the ability to perform elective surgeries? These are the questions that are top of mind for the surgeon community, Dr. Chua said.

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