Omicron 'taking off' in the region | News, Sports, Jobs – Marshall Independent

January 22, 2022
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Jan 21, 2022
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A surge in COVID cases caused by the omicron variant of the virus continues to put stress on health care systems in the region.
In a joint press conference on Thursday, representatives of both the Avera Health and Sanford Health systems said COVID positivity rates were up, and the number of people hospitalized increased sharply this month.
“Omicron has taken off incredibly fast,” said. Dr. David Basel, vice president of clinical quality at Avera Medical Group. “There’s almost no delta (variant) around, omicron has just totally out-competed it.”
“The number of positive tests that we are seeing on a daily basis is about one and-a-half to two times the level we saw at the peak of 2020 in the fall,” Basel said.
Basel and Dr. Mike Wilde, vice president medical officer at Sanford Health, urged members of the public to help health care workers by getting COVID vaccinations and boosters, staying home when they are sick, masking and taking other precautions.
“We need you to get vaccinated. We need you to get a booster shot,” Wilde said.
Basel and Wilde spoke at a Sioux Falls press conference that was also streamed live on Facebook. While some of the discussion focused on COVID’s impact in South Dakota, Basel and Wilde gave updates on the number of COVID hospitalizations in the Avera and Sanford Health systems.
Around Jan. 1, there were about 100 people hospitalized with COVID across the Avera Health system, Basel said. Two weeks later, the number is over 200, he said. Wilde said there were more than 200 people hospitalized with COVID across the Sanford system, as well.
Both the Avera Health and Sanford Health systems have locations in parts of the Dakotas and Minnesota.
Basel said the omicron variant seemed to be less severe than the earlier delta variant of COVID. But while the omicron variant was less likely to put people in the hospital, the “sky-high” number of omicron cases have still meant a sharp increase in the number of hospitalizations in Avera’s system, he said.
“We particularly see the difference between our vaccinated patients and our unvaccinated or non-boosted patients. As we look at (COVID) patients in the hospital right now, 84% of them are either unvaccinated or non-boosted,” Basel said. “Close to 90% of those in the ICU are either unvaccinated or not fully boosted. One hundred percent of our ventilator patients are unvaccinated or not fully boosted right now.”
With limits on visitations in the hospital, not many people have seen the effects of COVID firsthand, Wilde said.
“It’s very dramatic. These folks are very ill, and had been very healthy,” he said.
High numbers of COVID cases are also putting strain on urgent care centers, emergency rooms, testing locations and supplies, Basel said.
“Staffing continues to be one of our biggest concerns. We have literally hundreds of staff out on a daily basis, either with COVID, or recovering from COVID or exposed to COVID,” Basel said. He said the CDC reducing recommended isolation time from 10 days to five days has helped Avera Health get staff back more quickly.
Basel said telehealth options and at-home monitoring for COVID patients have helped keep hundreds of people from having to be admitted in hospitals.
Wilde and Basel said members of the public should get vaccinated for COVID, and get a booster shot. People should also be more cautious about staying home when sick. Compared to other COVID variants, the omicron variant has more symptoms that can seem like a common cold, Basel said.
“Even though you may feel well enough to go to work or school, stay home and get yourself tested,” he said.
Wilde said members of the public should also avoid going to the emergency room just to get a COVID test.
Basel said there are some signs of hope in the current surge of omicron cases.
“We’ve seen in other parts of the world and other states, that omicron comes on hard but then levels out and comes back down again. There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
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