Midstate hospitals remain full; many unknowns with new omicron variant

Coronavirus in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Hospitalizations are high across Pennsylvania right now with nearly 900 COVID patients in intensive care.

Hospitals in the Midstate aren’t over capacity for those intensive care unit beds, but several are close.

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There’s a renewed push for vaccinations and booster shots to stop the spread.

The new omicron variant is officially in the U.S. with scientists detecting the new COVID strain in California.

“We should be concerned. But we shouldn’t panic,” said Dr. Nancy Mimm, assistant professor of population health nursing at Harrisburg University.

The reality is there are still a lot of unknowns about omicron, which has more mutations than previous variants.

“On this basis of the mutations, people think it could be more infectious. It could cause more disease and it could evade some of the vaccines,” said Dr. John Goldman, infectious disease specialist with UPMC.

Scientists think, but they don’t know yet. And even if omicron is able to evade the vaccine, “It is likely that the vaccine will have continued substantial protection, and it is likely that the vaccine will have a great, very substantial protection against severe disease or hospitalization.”

Experts say that’s why we can’t let up on public health measures.

“Social distance, wash our hands, stay home if we’re sick, and most important, is we need to get vaccinated,” Mimm said.

Hospitals are still packed with dozens of mostly unvaccinated patients.

“Our ICUs are very busy. They are close to their capacity. They’re not over their capacity,” Goldman said.

Goldman says it’s important to make sure there’s space for other medical needs too.

“Your best bet against preventing infection delta or Omicron is to get vaccinated if you’ve been vaccinated to get boosted to have the highest possible levels of antibodies,” Goldman said.

Wellspan Health, says it’s delaying some but not all non-emergent care. It says those decisions are made based on day-to-day conditions in its hospitals. As of Wednesday, a spokesman said Wellspan is caring for nearly 300 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients across its six acute care hospitals. Of those patients, 88% are unvaccinated. 92% of the COVID patients in its ICUs are unvaccinated.

Data from Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health on Wednesday shows 78% of the 96 people in the hospital are unvaccinated. 19% percent are in the ICU and 17% are on a ventilator.

Penn State Health shows 156 hospitalizations across its four hospitals as of Wednesday. Of those, 43 are in the ICU and 26 are on a ventilator. The vast majority in critical care are unvaccinated.

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