Omicron a serious health threat – Times News Online

The omicron variant of COVID-19 is just a cold. Health care officials have heard this statement from their friends and, on occasion, even their own family members. Dr. Timothy Friel, an infectious disease physician with the Lehigh Valley Health Network, said Friday, however, that this line of thinking is one of the biggest current misconceptions about the virus.

“We hear this over and over again from the general public,” Friel said. “For some people, especially those who have been vaccinated, the symptoms can be mild and there are even asymptomatic cases. It’s absolutely awesome. For others, however, it can still be serious enough to require hospitalization and lead to devastating consequences.

Experts from the Lehigh Valley Health Network came together for a Facebook Live discussion Friday afternoon to address the current outbreak of COVID-19 and its effects on hospitals and health care systems around the world.

Friel said LVHN’s express care facilities, emergency rooms and testing centers are being pushed to levels not seen before during the pandemic.

“In our express care alone over the past week, we have seen days where we have registered almost 4,000 patients in a single day. We usually saw between 1,000 and 1,200 on peak days before that. »

The pressure on LVHN to keep pace is made more difficult, Friel said, by the impact COVID-19 is having on healthcare workers.

“We’ve had higher, record numbers of employees reporting actual exposures and infections to COVID-19, forcing them to leave work and stay home in isolation,” he said. . “There have also been a record number of nurses, respiratory therapists, hospital workers, doctors and other essential members of our team, who have chosen to retire early to take breaks to seek new careers. outside of health care, simply because of the relentless challenges that we in health care have faced.

At LVHN, nearly 90% of patients who tested positive for COVID-19 listed it as their primary diagnosis. According to a network analysis, about 80% of COVID-positive patients currently at 11 St. Luke’s University Health Network hospitals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have been admitted because of COVID-19.

The data contradicts the recent public narrative that most hospitalized COVID-19 patients tested positive for the coronavirus only incidentally after being admitted to hospital for other reasons.

“We want to set the record straight,” said Jeffrey Jahre, MD, St. Luke’s senior vice president of medical and academic affairs and infectious disease section chief emeritus. “St. Luke’s, as the national leader in COVID-19 care, has taken the initiative to investigate this issue and share its findings with the public that the omicron variant is indeed a serious health threat. This puts a huge strain on the country’s public health infrastructure and disrupts life across the country. »

This week, Massachusetts required its hospitals to differentiate between patients they admit primarily for COVID and those admitted for something else but who ended up testing positive.

Pennsylvania has not issued a similar guideline.

“When people are armed with the facts, the real facts, they are more likely to take appropriate action to protect themselves and the most vulnerable members of our community,” Jahre said.

Currently, St. Luke’s has about 400 COVID-positive hospitalized patients, including several dozen in intensive care. More than 1,800 Americans died from COVID-19 on Thursday.

The average new cases over the past week are 180 per day in Carbon County, 544 per day in Monroe County, 303 per day in Schuylkill County, 1,409 per day in Lehigh County and 1,035 a day in Northampton County.

Average daily deaths over the past week are one per day in Carbon County, two per day in Monroe County, three per day in Schuylkill County, four per day in Lehigh County and four a day in Northampton County.

Emergency rooms are also running out of space right now as fewer people avoid seeking routine care as they might at the start of the pandemic.

“People are coming to see us in endless droves as we deal with the brunt of the pandemic,” said LVHN emergency department physician Dr. Kate Kane. “You need to make sure you are truly unable to cope with any health issues you have before you go to the emergency room. Please definitely come if you have significant breathing difficulties, chest pain, other serious illnesses or injuries, but I would ask that you do not come for mild symptoms or for testing for COVID-19 alone.

Dr. Jodi Lenko of LVHN-Hazleton discussed the popularity of COVID-19 antigen test kits that can be used at home, noting that they may soon be covered by insurance.

“They are very good in this situation,” Lenko said. “If you have access to these tests, we recommend that you use them. If you are sick at home with cold or flu symptoms, fever, aches or pains, and a home test is positive, please trust the test. You do not need a PCR test to confirm you have COVID-19 after having a positive home test.

With the rise of the omicron variant, pediatric cases have increased, said Dr. Deborah Carter, executive vice president of Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital. Carter attributed some of that to the children’s return to face-to-face school activities and instruction this fall.

“It really started for us in pediatrics between September and October, although it’s been much worse in the last month or so,” she said. “We have had a record number of children getting tested. We actually had our highest number ever about a week ago of 5,500 kids being tested in a week. »

Positivity rates in children are also extremely high, Carter said. LVHN had positivity rates above 55% and 60% last week.

“It unfortunately led to more pediatric hospitalizations,” Carter said. “So we are seeing more children hospitalized with a diagnosis of COVID-19 as the primary diagnosis than in the past. We have reached a record number of approximately 14 patients per day in hospital systems. Some of them are in the intensive care unit.

LVHN officials continued to push for the vaccination of children.

“We currently have in our own system,” Carter said, “a vaccination rate of about 20% in the 5-11 age group. We were hoping for that much higher number, and we certainly encourage people to keep coming for those vaccines. It is a very safe vaccine for children.

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