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Latest surge in COVID-19 hasn't peaked, Missouri health officials warn

by Joe Gamm | January 16, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

Is that little cough in the cubicle next to you a sign the omicron variant has moved into your office?

Numbers seem to indicate the chances are better and better that it is.

Statewide, spread of omicron has resulted in school closings and hospital staffing shortages.

Those are conditions we've been through before but possibly not to this extent.

The spike in cases has caused record-setting numbers of people to come down with infections -- and record numbers of people being hospitalized.

Kristi Campbell, director of the Cole County Health Department, said there are more positive cases now than there have been during previous COVID-19 surges.

Because the symptoms are milder with the omicron variant and it seems to be more contagious, many do not realize they have it and could spread it to others without realizing," Campbell said. "We would encourage those with symptoms to stay home and distance from others that have underlying health conditions."

Statewide, there are close to 3,600 hospitalizations, Missouri Hospital Association spokesman Dave Dillon said.

"That is 800 more than we saw at the prior -- December 2020 -- peak," Dillon said. "It may not cause as serious a disease as other variants have, but Omicrons is spreading extremely rapidly."

He said the latest surge is again stressing hospitals to their breaking points.

"It's just the sheer amount all at once," Dillon said.

And once again, hospitals are searching for beds far and wide. They are reaching out to hospitals in neighboring states and have even reached out to states that are twice removed, such as Texas, Dillon said.

Unfortunately, those hospitals are in the same boat.

Hospitals that would normally transfer patients with other conditions or illnesses, have no place to send them.

"It's causing hospitals to be completely slammed," he said. "Emergency rooms are being used (for beds)."

Hospitals are also delaying some scheduled care.

For example, St. Mary's Hospital announced Wednesday it is postponing some procedures and scheduled surgeries.

On Friday, Capital Region Medical Center announced it would begin limiting services because of the latest surge.

Capital Region officials said the change was coming about because of the effects the current spike in COVID-19 cases in the community has had on staff and availability of beds at the hospital.

Other viruses and illnesses in the community (such as influenza) are exacerbating situations in clinics and hospitals, Campbell said.

"If people are experiencing severe symptoms and need medical care, they should reach out to their primary care physician first," she said. "People should also have a plan in place for illness, like (having on hand) over-the-counter medications that they prefer that could alleviate symptoms."

Vaccine manufacturers have said being fully vaccinated and boosted reduces risk of severe illness; however, there is no local data available to support or refute the statement, she said.

"Severe illness is very dependent on a person's health, current risk factors, underlying health conditions and age," Campbell said. "The omicron variant is the dominant variant in Central Missouri now and most likely responsible for the increase in cases. Hospitalizations are probably still delta (variant)."

The number of new cases in Cole County began to climb at the very end of November. During December, cases declined a small amount, then began another climb. On Dec. 28, Cole County recorded 63 new cases, about half of which were "breakthrough" cases, or those in which patients had been vaccinated before coming down with COVID-19. On Monday, Cole County had its highest daily number of new cases during the pandemic, 184.

"We anticipate that just as quickly as the cases climbed, they will also fall," Campbell said. "The omicron variant seems to be causing less severe illness, so we do not anticipate as many hospitalizations or deaths. Data collection is ongoing and only time will tell."

Unfortunately, Dillon said, the numbers are still on an upward trajectory in many Missouri communities. And hospitals are struggling to keep up with the pace.

"In some of the areas, where we're seeing that growth rate, hospitals have been requesting assistance," Dillon said.

A big concern is that spikes in cases have resulted in increases in hospitalizations, he said. And cases reported in spikes occurring now, may not be showing up in hospital admissions for a week or two.

Hospitals are already slammed, and the latest surge may not have peaked.

"That's troubling," Dillon said.

Print Headline: COVID-19 surge hasn't peaked, health officials warn


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