COVID infections put strain on Houston-area hospitals as omicron variant spreads

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Omicron is the most contagious variant to date with more than 143,000 active cases reported in Harris County and in the city of Houston. Local health experts said as the infection rates increase, so do cases and hospitalization numbers.

"We're getting a sense from a lot of the data we're seeing from the hospitals, from wastewater, and from other data sources, that the new cases look like they're peaking," said Dr. James McDeavitt with Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. McDeavitt also said the new cases are a result of community spread and predicts Houston-area hospitals will continue to peak over the next week or so.

"They were already at record highs. Five-hundred admissions to Texas Medical Center hospitals a day, which was 100 more than the peak of the worst surges throughout the entire pandemic," said McDeavitt.

He said that while a large number of patients aren't coming in as sick in the same frequency as we saw during the delta wave, more people are still getting the virus, which is putting a tremendous strain on medical staff.

"Your friends and neighbors are getting omicron. That's happening to your nurses and medical office assistants and physicians, too! So, we've got some real staffing problems," said McDeavitt.

The CDC reports patients hospitalized for COVID-19 continue to be those who are unvaccinated.

"Back in December, the disease incidents at that time was 36 cases per day, per 100,000 population over a seven day period. That's what the CDC follows. That number went up to 1,800 per day which means that if you're in a restaurant or if you're at Starbucks, or if you're walking around the grocery store, and you bump into somebody else, that person is 30 to 50 times more likely to be carrying COVID-19 and spreading COVID-19," said McDeavitt. "That's not a reason to be alarmed. It's not a reason to shut down the world. It is a reason to be cautious when you're out in the community to make sure that you're concerned that the people you're meeting might be carrying COVID."

He continues to stress the importance of getting vaccinated, wearing masks when you're in crowded places, calling out sick if you have COVID or symptoms related to the virus.

"I think COVID will always be with us like the flu, like rhinovirus. Like other respiratory viruses will always be in the background but not to the extent that it's caused all the problems we've seen," he said.

As for whether we will need a second booster shot in the future, McDeavitt said there isn't enough reliable data to determine right now.

"There are researchers and the pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer, Moderna, that are doing clinical trials now to look at the efficacy of a fourth dose," he said. "They also started development of a newer version of the vaccine because right now the vaccine you're getting is produced against the original strain that emerged from Wuhan way back in the beginning of this, pre-Delta. We can't respond to this by just having everybody run on get boosted every month. There's got to be some thoughtful deliberation."
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