Scientists are still a week away from being able to provide detailed information about the omicron variant, but current conditions and early information has leaders cautiously optimistic that any surge wouldn’t match the one Florida experienced in August and September.
So far, cases have been identified in at least 10 states. Leaders for those states have described patients as both vaccinated and unvaccinated, with none experiencing anything more than mild symptoms so far.
Leaders appear increasingly confident that vaccines provide protection against severe illness, leading them to believe a worst-case scenario can be avoided even if the variant proves to be more transmissible.
“I am cautiously optimistic that we will not see anything of the magnitude that we experienced in in August and September,” Florida Hospital Association President and CEO Mary Mayhew said.
Thanks to the multiple rounds of surges over the past 20 months, Mayhew said hospitals would be able to deal with an uptick in patients should one happen. Inventories, though tight due to supply chain shortages, are being monitored.
Staff morale was another matter. Mayhew said most were exhausted after nearly two years on the front lines.
“They still have vacancy rates that are extremely high,” she said. “We saw turnover rate among our nurses of over 25% last year.”
A recent FHA study projects Florida will be short of close to 60,000 nurses by 2035, with the most severe shortfall in The Villages. Mayhew said nursing school seats were full year after year, leading to her pushing schools to expand their capacities.
There are still a number of questions unanswered, including whether children’s hospitals would be more affected by the new variant. South African government leaders said they’ve seen a spike in hospitalizations from children under the age of five this week.
Protection through natural immunity, including monoclonal antibody therapies, is also being doubted. South African scientists reported preliminary results of a study Friday that showed reinfection rates had increased as omicron became more prevalent in the nation.
Still, Mayhew hoped this variant would kickstart the transition from pandemic to endemic, when COVID-10 is constantly present but does not pose a threat to hospital systems.
“We’ve got to operationalize for the long term, what it means to ensure that we’ve got not only a workforce that’s prepared, that we’ve got our infection control practices in place, but that the community understands the continued diligence to guard against rapid transmission,” she said.