Even though less serious, omicron is still a threat to community safety, health experts say

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Even though early research indicates that omicron causes “less severe” illness than previous variants of the coronavirus, doctors and public health experts are warning Texans not to let their guard down.

“At this point, we think gravity appears to be lessened, although we’ve been very, very careful not to view this as a time to get complacent,” said Prism CEO and President Dr. John Carlo. North Texas Health.

“We still have a lot of serious cases,” said Carlo, former medical director of Dallas County Health and Human Services and a member of the Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 task force.

In a press release Thursday morning, the Texas Medical Association, which represents more than 56,000 doctors and medical students across the state, warned that failure to follow public health protocols could put Texans and Texas hospital systems at risk.

The omicron-fueled surge has yet to peak in North Texas, and researchers estimate cases will continue to rise for at least a week. There were 3,780 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in North Texas on Thursday, or 25% of all hospitalized patients, according to the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council.

The latest forecast from University of Texas Southwestern researchers, released Wednesday and based on January 10 data, predicts that Dallas County will see more than 10,000 new cases per day by the end of the month.

What worries Carlo is the relaxed attitude towards COVID-19 he sees in people tired of another pandemic year. Many people, he said, assume they will catch the virus at some point, and when they do, they will be fine due to its “milder” reputation.

“We don’t want to confuse fatigue with complacency,” he said. “If we hold on [from spreading the virus] during this peak, we are going to be better off in the long run.

Although there are some treatment options aimed at keeping COVID-19 patients out of the hospital, such as monoclonal antibody therapy and COVID-19 pills, they are hard to come by due to supply shortages at the hospital. national scale.

A single monoclonal antibody treatment has been shown to be effective against omicron, and the health region that stretches from Area D-FW to just west of Abilene will only receive 330 doses for the next week.

The two COVID-19 pills, cleared for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration less than a month ago, are also hard to find.

The state has allocated 1,520 doses of Pfizer’s paxlovid, a pill used to lessen the severity of illness in non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients, to the same health region for the next two weeks. It has allocated 6,800 doses of Merck’s pill, molnupiravir, for the region.

Doctors are scrambling to find all the doses of treatment they can.

“I get text messages from people I went to medical school with, random friends, friends of friends who have my number,” said Dallas infectious disease specialist Dr. Emma Dishner. “My medical assistant most often responds to patients, but we are inundated with calls about these treatments. They are very, very hard to find.

Even though the omicron causes less severe illnesses, the number of people infected with the variant threatens to harm the healthcare system.

Cook Children’s, a Fort Worth-based hospital system, reported a record number of pediatric hospitalizations for COVID-19 on Wednesday. Of the 69 hospitalized, nine were waiting in the emergency room for beds to become available. Dallas-based Children’s Health reported that 75 pediatric patients with COVID-19 were hospitalized Wednesday.

“If more people are infected at the same time…it could actually further tax the healthcare system to a point where it cannot respond effectively to treat everyone who needs treatment,” Carlo said.

The more the virus spreads, the higher the risk of new mutations also, said Erin Carlson, associate clinical professor and director of graduate public health programs at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Each time there is a new transmission, the DNA of the virus copies itself with small modifications. Eventually, enough changes could result in a new variant. Current transmission rates create a perfect storm for these mutations to occur, Carlson said.

“With omicron, we have proof that the virus has found a way to evade immune defences,” she said. “Well, the next iteration of this, the next variant, might be able to completely avoid the defenses produced by the vaccine. I think that’s the big problem. »

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