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NEWARK, NJ (PIX11) – A military medical team is now on the ground in Newark, New Jersey after arriving early Thursday to assist with the surge in COVID-19 patients and staff shortages that has left University Hospital overwhelmed.

The 23 medical workers will serve as temporary reinforcements to the clinical staff. It’s all part of a federal effort announced last week by President Joe Biden where military teams of doctors, nurses and other clinical personnel will be lending much needed support to hospitals across the county.

The last time military personnel came to the hospital was at the peak of the pandemic in April 2020.

“I don’t think anyone expected what omicron has done here frankly,” Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the hospital’s CEO and President, told PIX11 News. “Even with the emergence of omicron specifically in how transmissible it is. We thought we’d be in a better place right now quite frankly.”

Right now, as many as 90 patients with COVID are being treated at university.

While things have improved since the holiday wave, significant staff shortages in key areas of the hospital persist, Dr. Elnahal said.

At one point, more than 700 workers had called out sick with COVID in a recent four-week span.

“We had over 150 patients in the current omicron wave and remember there are so many other patients we are caring for who don’t have COVID, but have other acute serious conditions, so we’ve been full this entire time,” he said.

While officials are optimistic that the Garden State has turned a corner where hospitalizations statewide are down 18% from a week ago, the goal continues to be compliance.

“Take all the precautions needed as we deal with this surge,” Dr. Elnahal advised. “First and foremost, not only get vaccinated but get boosted.”

“Make sure that you’re masking in public places, all the practical things we’ve been talking about,” he said.

The military personnel will be stationed at University Hospital for at least 30 days.

In the event cases continue to rise and staff shortages are prevalent, the hospital is in the position to request an extension from the federal government.