As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 moves across the country, the volume of patients is high at Great Plains Health, so please get a COVID-19 test through your primary physician, not the emergency room.

All staffed beds at the hospital were occupied as of Jan. 9, the date of the last report, but no one was on a ventilator.

The omicron variant is more transmissible than the delta variant, better at evading antibodies, but generally less severe, the National Geographic magazine reported Friday.

GPH spokeswoman Mary Roberts said nevertheless, hospital patients are very ill.

“If you need a COVID-19 test, visit your primary care provider or urgent care to get a COVID-19 test and discuss your treatment options,” Roberts said Friday. “Patients who only need a COVID-19 test will experience longer wait times in the emergency department since patients with immediate needs are being treated.”

COVID-19 numbers are significant and the hospital strongly recommends continuing proper hand hygiene and mask wearing.

With Omicron, the rate of hospital admission among people who went to the emergency room was a third of what it was for Delta in the United Kingdom, according to a Dec. 31 report.

In the U.S. as of early January, adults with Omicron were less than half as likely to visit the emergency room, be hospitalized, or be put on a ventilator, according to preliminary findings in a study of 14,000 people by Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

In hospitals, patients nationwide are showing up less often with pneumonia-like symptoms and hyperactive immune systems, as seen in previous waves. Instead, they’re more often presenting with congestion and scratchy throats, the National Geographic reported.

“In Omicron, the symptoms are more like a head cold,” said Carlos del Rio, an epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., speaking to the Geographic.

Omicron appears less able to infect lung cells, which in turn makes it less damaging and the symptoms less severe, the Geographic said. But in the upper respiratory tract, which includes the nose and sinuses, Omicron seems to replicate more than a hundred times faster than Delta.

Roberts asks for people to go elsewhere to get a COVID-19 test.

“In a healthcare setting, situations change quickly, sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis. We appreciate your support and understanding as we adapt to circumstances and work to provide the best possible care,” she said.

COVID-19 WATCH

As of Jan. 9, the number of COVID-19 cases in the six counties of the West Central Health District increased to 223, more than double the number of the previous week. During the previous week, Dec. 26-Jan. 1, the district reported 110 cases — a level that was relatively steady for a month.

Likewise, the number of patients with the virus increased at Great Plains Health, to around 20, after falling as low as nine on Dec. 30. Judging from a graph published by the hospital, about four of those patients were vaccinated.

A few more people in the health district are taking the precaution of getting vaccinated, but the number is increasing slowly. During the last four weeks, the percentage of fully-vaccinated adults in the health district ticked upward by 2%, More than 53% of adults are now vaccinated, the district said.

Researchers say the vaccine is not 100% effective, but it does decrease the severity of the virus for those who get it.

Every staffed bed in the hospital remained in use for the fourth week in a row. However, no patients were on ventilators. In past weeks, from 4-8 patients were on ventilators. A long-term COVID-19 patient was dismissed on Jan. 5 who had been on the ventilator for 12 days and in the hospital for 32 days. She received a rousing send-off from the staff.

As of Jan. 13, numbers were also relatively high in the first week at North Platte public schools in January. The schools were closed for nearly three weeks due to cold weather and the holidays.

Here is an overview of the situation in the North Platte and Lincoln County area:

At GPH Hospital (as of Jan. 9):

No. of COVID-19 patients — 19

No. not vaccinated – about 15

Staffed beds available – 0

Patients on ventilators — none

In the West Central Health District (6 counties, as of Jan. 9):

No. of COVID-19 cases in seven days – 223 

No. of cases previous seven days — 110

No. of deaths — 115

Percentage of adults fully vaccinated — 53.03%

At North Platte Public Schools, as of Jan. 13:

No. of cases — 42 students, 8 staff members.

No. of buildings requiring masks – 2 (requirement in effect for 10 days.)

The schools take a targeted approach to restrictions, requiring masks in classrooms and buildings when the number of known cases reaches a pre-set percentage.

© 2022 The North Platte Bulletin. All rights reserved.