According to Dr. Steven Krager, deputy health director for Clark County Public Health, the omicron variant appears to be less lethal than the delta variant, but it is still comparably lethal to the original strain of SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, which killed hundreds of thousands at the beginning of the pandemic.
The perception that the omicron variant is mild likely comes from the fact that it typically produces mild symptoms among the vaccinated, Krager said. Among the unvaccinated, however, it is likely more deadly and a greater cause for concern, especially as soaring cases threaten to overwhelm understaffed hospitals.
“We do not yet have enough data locally to draw strong conclusions, but based on data from other countries, the vaccines are still providing significant protection against hospitalization if infected with omicron,” Krager said.
He said he is particularly concerned about vulnerable Clark County residents, such as the 20 percent of residents 65 and older who are unvaccinated.
“That’s thousands of people who are extremely vulnerable,” Krager said. “The number of people being hospitalized for COVID-19 is increasing, and if we continue this trajectory, our hospitals are at risk of being overwhelmed. Getting vaccinated and boosted as soon as you’re eligible will not only provide you with the best protection against COVID-19, but it will lessen the burden on our strained health care system.”
Hospitals: Get vaccinated
Hospital officials in Clark County are pleading with residents to get vaccinated and boosted when possible.
According to Legacy Salmon Creek spokesperson Kristin Whitney, Legacy Health currently has about 116 COVID-19 patients across Oregon and Southwest Washington, which is about 40 percent higher than last month.
“We anticipate seeing a rise of COVID-positive patients in the coming weeks,” she said in a statement. “We are very concerned with the projected forecasts of hospitalizations given all the other strains on the health care system, and we are not out of the woods with the delta variant. It’s important to note that about 80 percent of our hospitalizations are people who are unvaccinated, which proves the effectiveness of the vaccine.”
PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center is facing a similar situation.
“PeaceHealth Southwest is experiencing an increase in patients being admitted with COVID,” spokesperson Debra Carnes said. “While our numbers have not yet reached the peak of the delta surge in the fall, the predictive models project we will exceed those numbers in the next couple of weeks.”
Carnes said the omicron variant has impacted staffing levels at PeaceHealth, but that the center has systems in place to help mediate the surge in hospitalizations and the drop in staffing.
“Having been managing COVID for nearly two years, we have established processes and protocols that we continue to follow,” she said. “Our (personal protective equipment) conservation strategies have allowed us to maintain ample supplies to ensure the safety of our patients and caregivers, but we are being stretched.”
Public Health officials and hospital representatives all recommend getting vaccinated and boosted to help slow omicron’s spread and to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
“Our ask for the community is for those vaccinated to get your booster, and for those not vaccinated, please get your vaccination today,” Carnes said.