North Carolina hospitals prepare for possible surge from Omicron variant
North Carolina hospitals continue to report a slow, but steady rise in the number of patients with COVID-19.
The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is now dominant in new cases. The state health department reported nearly 3,000 new cases Tuesday, with nearly 1,700 people in hospitals.
Some still require high-level care in the ICU.
"The majority are the unvaccinated," UNC Medical Center's interim chief nursing officer Jeff Strickler says of all COVID patients there. "Vaccinations and boosters are the best defense against getting sick, but even in the situation of breakthrough cases, they are dramatically effective at reducing the rate of hospitalization."
There were nearly 4,000 hospitalizations in North Carolina at the height of the Delta variant's spread in September.
Early studies show fully vaccinated people who have also gotten a booster shot are most protected against the Omicron variant.
Meanwhile, Strickler says about 20% of nursing positions at UNC remain vacant.
"That additional gap is made up by nurses that travel from other areas who come to us and support our operations. At the moment, we're basically running the same number of beds," Strickler said.
Gov. Roy Cooper and state health officials said this week they encourage people who plan to travel for the holidays to get tested before they leave.
“We've seen with the omicron variant that you can get real protection from boosters,” Cooper said Monday. “This is the first news conference we've had where boosters is the main message. The second message is testing. Those two things right now can help us get through this.”
Duke University announced on Monday that it will “require all students and employees to provide proof of receiving the COVID-19 booster shot in January or as soon as they are eligible.”
Overall, 73% of North Carolina adults have gotten at least one shot and 69% have received at least two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the J&J vaccine. But early studies suggest the vaccinated will need a booster shot for the best chance at preventing an omicron infection. Officials are also continuing to encourage those who have not received any shots to do so.