Staying Safe: Flights Cancelled, Hospitals Ready During Arctic Cold

Hundreds of flights were cancelled across the Midwest on Wednesday. At Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, over 600 flights — about half of the flights originating from the airport — were cancelled and over 600 flights into O'Hare were also cancelled, according to flight tracker FlightAware.

by Erin Dietzer, Holland Sentinel, Mich. / January 31, 2019

(TNS) - Safety across the region was a priority Wednesday, Jan. 30, as arctic temperatures and wind chills forced temperatures to as low as 65 below zero.

Hundreds of flights were cancelled across the Midwest on Wednesday. At Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, over 600 flights — about half of the flights originating from the airport — were cancelled and over 600 flights into O'Hare were also cancelled, according to flight tracker FlightAware.

Holland resident and Holland United Church of Christ pastor Bryan Berghoef has been in Toronto for work, and said his flights to Chicago have been cancelled for the past three days.

"It's very cold here," Berghoef said. "It's one below zero and feels like 11 below. Fortunately, I am staying with friends, so not stuck in the airport or at a hotel."

He added, "But I feel bad being away from my family during this stretch."

Fortunately, he said, he's been able to do some work from Toronto like responding to emails and doing sermon preparation.

"I've already missed a couple of meetings, and we canceled our Monday Pub Theology gathering because of the weather," he said.

The arctic air also had area hospitals on high alert for cold weather dangers like frostbite, hypothermia and car crash injuries.

"Looking through our patients for the past three days, we really haven't had any weather-related hypothermia," said Marcy Achterhof, emergency department manager at Holland Hospital. "That said, there have been plenty of minor car crashes and injuries. Don't be out on the roadways, because we have had a significant uptick in minor car crashes."

Achterhof said the various warming shelters have been having an effect. Homeless people who normally come to the hospital to try to stay warm haven't been.

"We have the information on warming shelters posted at our security desk, triage area and our care managers are aware of where those stations are," she said. "The word is getting out there. I know we've had staff that have donated to the shelters, particularly the one at Christ Memorial."

However, Achterhof said they're still staying vigilant.

"We're prepared to take care of them," she said. "We have extra warm fluid in our warmers and have our warm blankets stocked. We know to keep on high alert, not only during this period of high publicity, but also for next week and the following week."

Doug Olson, nurse manager of the emergency department at Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital, said they've seen a lower number of patients overall, as people seem to be heeding the warnings of law enforcement and community agencies to not travel unless absolutely necessary.

What they have seen, he said, is an increase in the number of people using Spectrum's MedNow system, which allows people to have video chats with medical professionals or fill out an online questionnaire and get a treatment plan.

People can use MedNow by calling 844-322-7374, using their MyHealth account with Spectrum or through the MedNow app on Apple and Android phones.

"About 187 people have used that service in past two days," Olson said. "We're estimating that's saved about 2,300 miles of travel in this bad weather."

Olson said that if someone does have an emergency and aren't sure if they can travel safely to the hospital, they should call 911.

Olson said it's important to look out for frostbite and hypothermia, especially for those who can't easily share their symptoms like children and the elderly with cognitive impairments or dementia.

Fingers, toes and cheeks are common areas of frostbite, he said. Skin turns pale, feels numb or tingly and some report a burning sensation. People beginning to suffer from hypothermia often show confusion and disorientation.

"We recommend people use extreme caution," Olson said. "If you absolutely have to go out, dress warmly, wear layers and cover everything. In this weather, people can get frostbite in minutes and hypothermia doesn't take long to set in. "

It's important to take care of the animal members of the family as well. Sara Ybema, medical director at Harbor Humane Society, said pets should definitely be inside, and outside bathroom breaks should be brief.

"They can start to get frostbite within three to four minutes if it gets down to what they say it's going to get down to," she said. "If you can cover them up, with booties and a sweater, do it."

If you don't have booties for your pet, Ybema said it's important to wipe their paws off with warm water to get the snow out of their toes. Paws, tips of ears and tail and noses are where animals are susceptible to frostbite.

Ybema also said that you can keep your dog from going stir crazy with things like doing leash training inside and hiding treats around the house.

"Fifteen minutes of 'scent work,' when a dog is using their nose, is equal to a one mile walk," Ybema said.

Ybema said they haven't necessarily seen an increase in animal intake at the shelter yet, but they are anticipating it as the cold weather continues. For now, they're responding as quickly as possible to reports of strays.

Freezing temperatures will continue into Thursday, Jan. 31, with a high near seven degrees and wind chills as low as 29 below zero.

— Follow this reporter on Twitter @SentinelErin.

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