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What's next for Northeast Ohio's hospitals after National Guard moves out?

As of now, there are no plans for members of the National Guard to return to the area to assist with the COVID-19 crisis.

PARMA, Ohio — Cheers and applause rang out Thursday afternoon as nurses, doctors, and other caregivers at University Hospitals Parma Medical Center hosted a "clap-out" to show their appreciation for members of the Ohio National Guard who have been assisting with the latest COVID-19 surge.

"They are so gracious and so willing to jump into the task they were given," Dr. Robert Hughes, a UH emergency medicine physician who worked directly with the Guard members, said. "[They saved lives,] without a doubt."

As of now, there are no plans for members of the National Guard to return to UH to assist with the COVID crisis.  

"I will miss them," Hughes admitted, "but my hope is that we will make enough progress with enough vaccinations across Cleveland."

In the meantime, more than a month after suspending its coronavirus vaccine mandate for employees, UH has announced a new deadline for workers to get the shots following a ruling by the United States Supreme Court. The hospital system confirms all caregivers must get at least their first dose by Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, and those getting a two-dose vaccine from either Pfizer or Moderna have to get the second dose be received by March 15.

"This requirement applies to all UH caregivers as well as licensed independent providers; students, trainees, and volunteers; and anyone who provides care, treatment, or other in-person services to UH or its patients under contract or arrangement," officials said in a statement.

All employees are eligible to apply for either a medical or religious exemption under the mandate. However, while the hospital did not specify what will happen to workers who don't obtain an exemption and still refuse to get the shots, it is expected they will either be placed on leave or perhaps fired altogether.

Hughes tells us the worst part of the pandemic, for him, is seeing patients who end up in the hospital with COVID full of regret for not getting vaccinated.

"While the [hospitalization] numbers are decreasing, the numbers are still higher than they had ever been at any point in the pandemic," he added.