The omicron variant is on track to shatter state records for COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, according to a forecasting model from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Currently, the surge is crushing already tired and strained healthcare workers across North Texas as experts warn the worst numbers are yet to come.
As of Jan. 10, state data shows the positivity rate in Texas is around 37% for PCR tests, a new pandemic record.
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UTSW researchers project that hospitalizations could soon do the same.
The projections are listed in UTSW’s COVID-19 forecast for the DFW Region, which analyzes data and offers insight into where those trends are heading. Click here to view the report in full.
Some key takeaways:
- Hospitalizations could double by end of January
- Hospital volumes up 74% compared to last week, 222% compared to a month ago
- Around 37% of tests come back positive statewide
- Omicron is nearly 100% of cases sequenced at UTSW labs
- About 10,000 new infections per day are expected by the end of January in Dallas County, with 8,000 cases per day predicted in Tarrant County
According to UTSW, the number of hospitalized patients in Dallas County could reach 2,000 by the end of the month, with 2,500 predicted in Tarrant County. For context, there were over 900 hospitalizations reported in Dallas County alone on Jan. 6.
As of Monday, the DFW Hospital Council said there were more than 3,300 COVID-19 hospitalizations in the North Texas region. The state has split up regions into “Trauma Service Areas” and DFW is listed within TSA E.
"This represents 24.6% of available bed capacity. We have adult staffed ICU beds available of 36 and COVID-19 patients account for 40.4% of adult ICU patients. We have 124 pediatric COVID-19 patients in our hospitals which is an increase of 3 pediatric COVID-19 patients from yesterday," the DFW Hospital Council said in a statement on Monday.
But doctors said those who are being hospitalized in the ICU for the omicron variant, which appears to be milder than other variants, seem to be faring better than ICU patients observed in previous variants like delta.
“When I talk to the doctors, some of the people in the ICU with COVID are not necessarily on ventilators, like when delta was at its height,” Steve Love, president and CEO of the DFW Hospital Council, told The Dallas Morning News. “They’re still in the ICU and have COVID, but they’re not as sick with COVID as previous surges.”
Still, doctors report that omicron is so contagious that it's spreading to a wider swath of population, therefore putting more people at risk for hospitalization, especially the unvaccinated.
"It is obvious we are surging from omicron as our numbers are the highest since the middle of September 2021. Our number one concern is staffing as our healthcare heroes are fatigued and we need additional staffing for all our patients. We recommend people wear masks, stay out of large crowds and gatherings. If unvaccinated, please get vaccinated as the omicron variant is very contagious and is causing this serious surge in North Texas," the hospital council added in its statement on Jan. 10.
The surge is adding a critical strain on healthcare workers, who have already been dealing with staffing shortages throughout the pandemic. It has now been made worse with more staff getting sick from omicron.
“Two years ago when this happened, nurses threw themselves on the COVID-19 hand grenade. And we were putting ourselves out [there] because what we do is try to protect our population. It's what we do,” Dr. Barbara Chapman, a local nurse practitioner. “We're so short-staffed because of our own faculty, our own staff are getting COVID. Our own people getting sick, our own people suffering this moral injury. It's harder to take care of the public the way we would like to."
To help with the surge, the state has sent 1,000 traveling nurses to North Texas hospitals.
JPS Health Network announced Monday that it is expecting to have 49 traveling healthcare workers provided by the state of Texas to start caring for patients during the current COVID-19 surge.