Parkland Hospital Leader Talks Omicron, Pandemic's Toll on Frontline Workers

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Parkland Hospital is reporting an ‘unprecedented’ spike in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in a short amount of time.

It is due, in part, to the fast-spreading Omicron variant that accounts for about 85% of all COVID-19 cases in Dallas County, according to Dr. Joseph Chang, Parkland’s Chief Medical Officer.

As of Wednesday morning, Parkland is caring for 187 COVID-patients with another 20 patients recovering from the virus.

“The rise in cases in this short of time is unprecedented,” said Chang. “We’ve not seen this before.”

However, there are fewer people requiring care in the intensive care unit signaling that while more contagious, the omicron variant is less severe.

Asked whether the increase in breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated people may be linked to vaccines waning protection over time, Chang believes the increase is simply due to the omicron variant.

“The omicron variant has many more mutations than some of the prior variants and so it’s a little bit more different than the original virus that the vaccines were designed originally against. And so, we’re seeing that it’s not quite as effective as complete prevention,” he said. “It’s true that omicron is breaking through vaccination at a much higher rate than other variants. However, those who are vaccinated don’t need to be admitted here and that’s a very important part for people to understand.”

An estimated 90% of their patients are unvaccinated, according to Chang.

The other 10% or so are mostly older or those with underlying health conditions like organ transplant recipients.

Dallas County’s public hospital continues to grapple with staffing shortages due to the virus, despite about a 98% vaccination rate.

Chang says right now, they’re down ‘a couple hundred’ staff members on furlough due to COVID or-COVID like symptoms.

The state has been helping bring in temporary staff to alleviate the shortages, he says.

The pandemic continues to take a toll on frontline workers still on the job.

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that my staff are having a very difficult time trying to weather yet another wave of COVID,” said Chang.

Perla Sanchez is a registered nurse who has worked in Parkland’s COVID ICU unit for almost two years.

Sanchez says she continues to see unvaccinated patients needing to be intubated and pregnant patients in intensive care.

“We’re having to have the doctor deliver the baby at 20-something weeks,” she said about a patient over the Christmas holiday.

Sanchez also recounted one night when she overheard a child, no more than five years old, talking to her dying mother over a zoom call.

“’Mommy, I’m sorry if I was a bad kid but I know that you’re on your way to Heaven,’” she recalled. “That’s very difficult to hear and that continues to be the case and unfortunately it’s the individuals that are not vaccinated.”

What’s worse, models predict omicron won’t peak for another two to three weeks, according to Chang who is urging people to get vaccinated, wear a mask and thank a health care worker.

“As frustrated as people in the community are about hearing and living with COVID all this time, imagine if this is what you did every single day,” he said. “If you know a healthcare worker, give them some encouragement. It really goes a long way to getting us back in the morning and do it all over again.”

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