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President Biden sending medical teams to help Cleveland Clinic battle COVID surge

'If you haven’t gotten vaccinated, do it. Personal choice impacts us all.'

CLEVELAND — More help is on the way.

President Joe Biden announced a plan Thursday morning to dispatch medical teams to hospitals in six hard-hit states as they battle the current wave of COVID infections.

The Cleveland Clinic is one of those hospitals.

Although President Biden didn't mention the Cleveland Clinic specifically during his brief comments Thursday, the hospital itself confirmed the plan with 3News by releasing the following statement from CEO and President Tom Mihaljevic:

We are grateful for the federal support as we continue to face a challenging COVID-19 surge in our Ohio hospitals. The addition of military medical personnel allows us to care for more patients in our community. We continue to urge everyone to take precautions and receive their COVID-19 vaccine, as the majority of our patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

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3News’ Sara Shookman spoke with the Clinic's Chief Medical Operations Dr. Robert Wyllie, who confirmed 20 U.S. Air Force heath care workers will arrive next week.

“Sometimes a few people in those critical areas, just to relieve the staff and to bring in one more patient is very important,” said Dr. Wyllie.

Wyllie says the team of 4 doctors, 14 nurses, about half of them with ICU experience, and 2 respiratory therapists will be on the ground for at least 30 days.

“We decided to apply to help out the entire [Zone 1], in the hospitals in Cuyahoga County, but also the surrounding counties, to see if we could decompress everybody a little bit,” he said. The Clinic worked with the state to apply for FEMA help, on top of the National Guard members already deployed around Ohio.

“They're not viewed as replacements for those resources but in addition to,” said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff in the Ohio Department of Health’s Thursday briefing. “Ohio has been on the front end of this surge, along with a number of other states. And additional support and help is needed. “

Dr. Wyllie said the guard has been extremely helpful with everyday operations at its Cleveland Clinic hospitals but has limited clinical capabilities. Only about 100 guard members deployed are trained healthcare workers, already spread thin around to various emergency departments across the state.

This will provide the medically trained staff they need now. And staffing has been a struggle. The hospital activated CDC contingency plans, allowing COVID-positive health care workers who feel well enough, to come back at 5 days, not 7.

“We still have over 900 caregivers out. And so these clinical people are coming from the Air Force will help us staff the main campus, help us expand our capacity a little bit, and to take care of more patients,” said Wyllie.

The other thing that's helping: cases are dropping in Northeast Ohio. Cuyahoga County, saw an average of 3200 new cases per day, a few weeks ago, and was down to 15-hundred Thursday morning.

“We started out very hot in terms of COVID infections compared to almost any other county in the United States,” said Dr. Wyllie. “We're kind of first in and first out of the wave… I think we've actually just passed our peak.” Dr. Wyllie says we're still in the window for hospitalizations to crest locally, with a week or two lag there.

Dr. Vanderhoff says the state is currently helping other hospitals, though he didn’t say which ones, apply for similar aid. The decisions are made at the federal level.

During his comments, President Biden also repeated his push for more Americans to get vaccinated.

“It’s been a long road, but what’s clear is that we get through this when everybody does their part," President Biden said. "No matter where you live. No matter your political party. We’ve got to fight this together. While our military is stepping up as they always do, there are others sitting on the sidelines – and worse, standing in the way. If you haven’t gotten vaccinated, do it. Personal choice impacts us all.”

We also streamed President Biden's full update, which you can watch below:

RELATED: The fight against COVID: NBC News gets exclusive look inside Cleveland Clinic’s ICU

News of this plan first surfaced Wednesday in a report from USA Today.

The other hospitals receiving the additional help are listed as follows, according to the Associated Press:

  • Henry Ford Hospital just outside Detroit
  • University Hospital in Newark
  • The University of New Mexico hospital in Albuquerque
  • Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn
  • Rhode Island Hospital in Providence

President Biden said the plan for this hospital help includes more than 120 military medical personnel.

The help comes a few weeks after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine first ordered members of the National Guard to help hospitals and COVID testing locations throughout the state.

On Wednesday, the Cleveland Clinic announced that nonessential surgeries were now being postponed through Jan. 30. Hospital officials said their decision is based on the rise in COVID cases, inpatient capacity and staffing challenges.

This includes nonessential surgeries requiring a hospital bed -- as well as all nonessential outpatient / ambulatory surgeries -- at all of their Ohio hospitals.

RELATED: Cleveland Clinic extends postponement of nonessential surgeries through Jan. 30 amid COVID surge, staffing challenges

“At this time, this postponement does not include our ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) or ambulatory endoscopy centers (AECs),” the Clinic said in a statement. “Essential, urgent or emergent surgeries, or those in need of surgery for cancer or transplant, will continue to be scheduled during this period. We will evaluate our scheduled surgical patients as the pandemic continues.”

Meanwhile, Kate Snow of NBC News was given an exclusive look inside the Cleveland Clinic’s ICU for a first-hand glimpse at the situation doctors and nurses face each day. You can watch that report HERE.

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