Is the Omicron variant saturating hospitals?
As the number of Americans infected with covid-19 continues to rise driven by the spread of the Omicron variant hospitals implement emergency measures.
New covid-19 infections continue to rise around the US with the US registering a record 1.35 million on Monday, the highest daily total for any country in the world. The high rate of infection is primarily driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant, but the Delta variant is still making the rounds. A day later the US shattered another record with nearly 146,000 covid-19 hospitalizations.
Although data show that Omicron is less likely to result in hospitalization, the sheer number of new cases and staffing shortages with healthcare workers out sick or isolating are both stretching healthcare systems across the nation to their limits. In several states hospitals have adopted “Crisis Standards of Care” to dedicate resources to those in critical need of care.
Not all patients are primarily hospitalized for covid-19
The number of individuals showing up at hospitals with covid-19 infections has been rising during the latest covid-19 surge. However, unlike previous waves many of the infections are being discovered incidentally with patients testing positive after arriving for other non-covid reasons.
Dr. Rahul Sharma, emergency physician in chief for NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital told The New York Times that despite the higher number of patients the severity of the disease is less than previous waves. Fewer patients are being sent to the ICU or even getting intubated. “Most of our patients that are coming to the emergency department that do test positive are actually being discharged,” he said.
Data from the United Kingdom reported by the government recently reflects what Dr Sharma is seeing. It showed that people infected with the Omicron variant were half as likely to require hospital care as those infected with the Delta variant. Additionally, those infected with Omicron were a third less likely to be admitted to the ICU as those with Delta. Similar patterns were reported in findings from Canada and Houston Methodist health care.
The unvaccinated are filling ICU beds
However, the more dangerous Delta variant is still prevalent in parts of the US and even the Omicron variant has proven fatal. With both highly contagious variants infecting so many the number of people ending up in hospital has been surging. Doctors and healthcare systems say that those who are ending up in the ICU are overwhelmingly unvaccinated.
In addition to the crush of new patients, nearly reaching 146,000 on Tuesday, hospitals are dealing with staffing shortages as front-line workers contract covid-19 or are forced to isolate. This has led to nearly one in four medical centers reporting they have a “critical” staffing shortage. States from coast to coast have had to adopt or consider implementing new protocols to help ease the burden on hospitals.
Health officials say that those who are sick should not be discouraged from seeking care. The measures are designed to provide more flexibility to delay some non-urgent surgical procedures to preserve bed capacity. As well, it will free up resources so that hospitals can treat more critical patients.