Omicron impacts being felt locally

Photo courtesy of Aspirius Health Care Steve Phillipson, Aspirus Regional Director for Hospital Medicine Services, checks over a batch of intravenous medicines.

WAUSAU, Wis. — Researchers continue to gather new information every day on the omicron COVID-19 variant. To date, there seem to be two trends in the data: omicron is more contagious and its symptoms are less severe.

Locally, we are already seeing drastic increases in COVID-19 positivity rates. Wisconsin reported a new daily high for the seven-day average of COVID-19 cases on Jan. 11, which is now up to 9,696 cases per day with a 28.2 percent positivity rate. Aspirus processed a system-high of 7,660 COVID-19 tests with a record-high 34 percent positivity rate from Jan. 2 to 8.

This is a concern because the highly contagious omicron variant is converging with rising cases of seasonal illnesses like influenza. This dynamic has expanded challenges faced by health systems beyond the hospital to outpatient settings and staffing.

“I would say right now, in part due to COVID hospitalizations and part due to other factors, we’re in a dire state. Not just at Aspirus, but throughout the upper Midwest,” said Steve Phillipson, M.D., Aspirus regional director for Hospital Medicine Services.

Dr. Phillipson and hospital staff have been on the frontlines saving lives since the pandemic started. His team is still dealing with the surge caused by the delta variant. Now, they’re beginning to experience an additional surge from the omicron variant.

That surge is coming fast, according to data from the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene. Omicron is now the most dominant variant in the state and is more severe than influenza.

“On the ICUs we’re seeing people with respiratory failure who are on ventilators for weeks and weeks at a time, developing organ failure and needing things like dialysis, people having strokes and blood clots to the lungs. All manner of things that COVID can cause,” Dr. Phillipson said.

The omicron variant is still being studied, but data indicate your best line of defense is still to get vaccinated and to get your booster shot.

“If you look at Portugal or New York City and what they’re experiencing, people who are vaccinated are not ending up in the hospital, they’re not ending up infected at nearly the same rate as the unvaccinated and they’re certainly not dying,” Dr. Phillipson said.

Just over 8.7 million people in Wisconsin are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (one J&J shot or two Pfizer or Moderna). A little over 1.7 million people in Wisconsin have received an additional or booster shot.

As of Tuesday, Jan. 11, 80 percent of COVID-19 inpatients throughout the Aspirus system were not fully vaccinated.

“We’re in this situation where we don’t have enough people to take care of people and we don’t have enough beds to take care of them,” Dr. Phillipson said. “So, let’s say that you got your vaccine, and your aunt, uncle or grandparent got their vaccine and they got sick with some other problem, we might not have a bed to take care of them.”

COVID-19 vaccinations are available through Aspirus Health and numerous pharmacies in our communities. Boosters or initial vaccination series can be scheduled through Aspirus using the MyAspirus online patient portal or mobile app. Appointments are also available by calling the Aspirus COVID-19 Call Center at 844-568-0701 or 715-843-1454. The Call Center has been experiencing high call volumes, so community members are encouraged to use MyAspirus for convenience.


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