PHOENIX — Hospital officials and public health experts in Arizona are warning against dismissing omicron because of its reputation for being a less severe covid-19 variant.
Dr. Michael White, of Phoenix-based Valleywise Health, said amid reports that some people are deliberately trying to catch the highly contagious variant, believing they will suffer mild illness in exchange for gaining natural immunity.
Early studies show omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant. But vaccination and a booster still offer strong protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death.
Dr. Joshua LaBaer, executive director of Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, also said not to be dismissive of it. There’s always a chance omicron could trigger serious illness or long-haul covid-19 symptoms down the road, he said.
“Voluntarily getting infected when the health care system is already stressed and potentially adding to that stress is probably not a great idea either,” LaBaer said. “The whole system is something we have to pay attention to.”
Hospitalizations for covid-19 have been inching upward in the state since Dec. 31, when they were 2,283. They were up to 2,929 as of Tuesday.
In Mohave County, Kingman Regional Medical Center is treating 52 patients for covid, 13 of which are in the ICU. According to the center’s website, about a third of the 1,517 tests it performed in the last seven days have come back positive. Numbers for Havasu Regional Medical Center were not available before the News-Herald’s publication deadline, but HRMC officials were among hospital representatives who signed a letter to the state seeking assistance amid increased cases and staffing shortages.
According to KRMC CEO Will McConnell there is some good news amid all the positive cases when comparing this surge of covid to past surges.
“The current surge feels very different than prior surges. Our percent positive rate and the raw number of positive cases over the most recent 7- and 30-day periods are the highest they have ever been,” McConnell said. “The good news is that we are seeing fewer hospital admissions from those positive covidcases. Hopefully that means that we are in the process of moving from pandemic to endemic status for covid. While the next few weeks will be challenging, we are hopeful change is on the horizon as our staff could use a reprieve.``
Sonora Quest Laboratories, which conducts the majority of covid-19 tests in Arizona, broke its single-day record for number of tests processed on Tuesday. The state’s largest diagnostic lab went through over 34,000 samples, Chief Operating Officer Sonya Engle said in a statement.
Embry Health, one of the main testing providers in Mohave County, announced on its Twitter that a record number of appointments for testing, 48,359, was booked on Monday.
Meanwhile, the state coronavirus dashboard reported a record high of 18,783 new confirmed covid-19 cases Wednesday. Another six virus-related deaths were also reported. This brings Arizona’s pandemic totals to 1,524,363 cases and 24,992 deaths.
Today's News-Herald staff writer Joey Postiglione contributed to this story.