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UVa Health officials expect post-holiday COVID surge

University of Virginia Health officials say they are expecting a potential post-holiday surge of COVID cases across the region but say they are prepared with protective equipment and sufficient staffing.

As COVID cases surge across the country due to the highly infectious omicron variant, UVa officials say the increase in cases they have seen since Thanksgiving is primarily due to the delta variant infections.

They believe that will likely change as the omicron variant, which appears to be even more contagious than delta, makes its way into Central Virginia.

“We’re seeing an increase in cases around the country. and so we should anticipate that we will continue see a steep rise in COVID cases,” said Dr. Costi Sifri, head of epidemiology at UVa Medical Center. “The rise appears to be driven by omicron across most of the state and the country. and I certainly anticipate that we will be seeing the same uptick in the upcoming weeks.”

Sifri said currently, Central Virginia is dealing with the now familiar delta version of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the disease, COVID-19. That could create crowded conditions at hospitals once omicron hits.

“We should recognize that we’re in a different state than other places. We’re still in the middle of a delta surge,” Sifri said. “We had an early delta surge in the fall that peaked in September and, locally, well into October. Those cases started to decrease in early November, but after Thanksgiving we started to see increases.”

Although the vast majority of COVID-19 cases for which genetic sequencing has been done have proved to be caused by the delta variant, Sifri said he has little doubt omicron is here.

“When you see someone test positive for COVID, you really don’t know what variant they have. What we know is that we have seen almost essentially 100% delta based on sequencing results, and it drove the rates we saw in the fall and that have started to pick back up after Thanksgiving,” he said.

“We do know there’s been at least one case of omicron in our health district. We have seen omicron rising quite steeply in some locations, and I have no reason to expect that it’s not here. If it’s not here now, we will find it’s here soon enough.” Sifri said.

According to the Associated Press, preliminary data released Thursday shows that people with the omicron variant in Britain are between 50% and 70% less likely to need hospitalization than those with the delta strain.

The U.K. Health Security Agency findings add to emerging evidence that omicron produces milder illness than other variants — but also spreads faster and better evades vaccines.

The more people a virus infects, the more chances it has to mutate into a new variant, according to the World Health Organization.

The agency warned that the study is “preliminary and highly uncertain” because of the small number of omicron patients studied and their younger ages. As of Dec. 20, 132 people had been admitted to U.K. hospitals with confirmed omicron. Of those, 14 died. All of the fatalities were people between 52 and 96 years old.

“Locally, we’re going to see this play out over the next couple of weeks,” Sifri said. “With omicron’s arrival and what delta will add on top of that, even if it’s just a little bit, it could prove a significant stress to the medical system moving forward.”

UVa Medical Center officials said they are meeting every day to look at case counts and hospital staffing needs. They said they believe they are in a position to respond to increased COVID case counts will still providing care for non-COVID patients.

“We have plenty of personal protective equipment for our staff and patients, and we are continuing to recruit to make sure we have the staffing needed,” said Dr. Reid Adams, chief medical officer for UVa Medical Center.

Adams said the hospital head count for COVID patients has remained around 43 for the past few weeks. He said about half of the patients are acute care and half are in intensive care. UVa currently has four pediatric cases.

“We feel we are prepared going into the [holiday] season,” said Wendy Horton, chief executive officer of the hospital. “Over the last couple of weeks we have been pretty stable with a mix of permanent staff and travelers. I think we’re prepared at this point.”

Sifri said people who are planning to travel or spend time with family over the holidays should get boosters or get vaccinated, if they have not already gotten the shots. He also recommended wearing masks in public places, either medical grade or KN-95 masks. In the absence of those, he said a good quality cloth mask is better than nothing.

He said studies indicate that a two-dose vaccination of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines provides about 40% protection against the omicron variant. An added booster dose increases that protection to around 70%.

“If you’re going to a place that’s a hot spot with a surge of COVID cases, then be especially cautious about your activities,” Sifri said. “Omicron symptoms are similar to other COVID symptoms, with vaccinated people having more of an upper respiratory tract infection, including stuffy nose, sore throat. If you feel like you have a respiratory illness, that’s the time to get checked out.”

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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