Hospitals in North Texas say they are now seeing up-close the expected rise in hospitalizations from the fast-spreading omicron variant.
In Dallas, Parkland Memorial Hospital reached a record single-day total of visits to the emergency room this week.
"We did have our highest check-in day earlier this Monday," said Dr. Joseph Chang, Parkland's Chief Medical Officer. "The highest number we’ve actually ever seen at Parkland."
While a view inside the COVID-19 ward reveals a glimpse of how busy it can be, seeing is only part of the story at Parkland, according to Dr. Chang.
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“The overwhelming feeling is fatigue from our standpoint,” Chang said.
And that feeling isn’t going away, not with omicron as the dominant variant strain, spreading quickly in North Texas. Chang said COVID-19 patients are currently taking up three wards inside the hospital, and he expects they’ll start doubling up rooms soon.
This time around, he said frontline workers are more prepared and know what to expect. Still, he said all medical professionals are working overtime right now, and he has a plea for the public.
“If your symptoms are not severe, or you don’t have symptoms at all and you’ve just been exposed, the emergency room is not the place for you,” Chang said.
Chang said Thursday a little more than 100 COVID-19 patients have been admitted over the last few days but the situation in the emergency department is much busier.
On Monday, 995 people checked in, marking a single-day record for the emergency room at Parkland. Another 910 showed up Tuesday, and the latest numbers available for Wednesday placed the number of patient check-ins at 870.
Not all of them are COVID-19 patients, but Chang says the omicron variant is fueling the rise.
“The real question is how high this peak goes and how many of those individuals end up being sick enough to be in the hospital,” Chang said.
Nationally, infectious disease experts are cautiously optimistic.
The Centers for Disease Control said Thursday while cases have spiked 60% since last week, hospitalizations have only risen 14% over the same time period.
At Parkland, three COVID wards are up and running right now. It needed four during the peak of the delta variant in late August and early September.
And Chang reminds all of us as we head into the third year of the pandemic that hospital systems have a playbook to respond to this latest variant too.
“It’s OK, don’t worry,” Chang said. “The public should know that all of our hospitals in North Texas – including Parkland – are well versed already in making these changes.”
He reiterated the number one change that would impact the longevity of any subsequent variant remains higher vaccination rates in communities across North Texas.