We are now close to the two-year anniversary of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our hospitals have weathered four surges of overwhelming numbers of patients with COVID-19 and unfortunately, we are now seeing a fifth surge associated with the omicron variant.
The number of patients hospitalized at Piedmont Columbus Regional and throughout the Piedmont system is going up rapidly right now. Like in previous surges, the number of patients with COVID being hospitalized threatens our capacity.
When capacity is reached and surpassed, our ability to take care of other illnesses and complete needed elective surgical procedures is limited. And as the local trauma center, Piedmont Columbus Regional needs open beds and the capacity to take care of accidents that occur in our community.
Therefore, preventing hospitalization for COVID is paramount.
What can we do to prevent hospitalization? We all know about basic infection prevention principles to decrease transmission of the virus during a surge, such as meticulous hand hygiene, wearing a mask when there is risk of exposure, and social distancing when possible.
There is also good news on the treatment front with new antiviral outpatient treatments becoming available that have been shown to prevent hospitalization. But as of this writing, the availability of these treatments is limited.
That leaves us with vaccination. Although vaccination does not completely prevent COVID-19 infection, it is highly effective in preventing severe disease and hospitalization.
During the delta variant COVID surge that affected Columbus in August and September, more than 90% of patients that required hospitalization with severe disease were unvaccinated. And so far, as we review each hospital admission during the start of this omicron surge, the majority of the patients admitted with severe COVID are again unvaccinated.
For those of us that manage hospitalized COVID patients daily, it is very clear that the vaccine is still effective in preventing severe COVID illness.
Unfortunately for Columbus, Muscogee County is only 40% fully vaccinated and some of our surrounding counties have an even lower vaccination rate. This low vaccination rate puts local hospitals at high-risk of being overwhelmed during the current surge and other surges that may follow.
So please, get vaccinated! If you have not been vaccinated, start now.
If you are already fully vaccinated and more than six months out from your last shot, please consider the booster. Booster doses do appear to increase protection from severe disease due to the omicron variant.
By becoming vaccinated, you may save your own life or the life of others not only by decreasing the risk of severe COVID, but by preserving hospital capacity to treat other life-threatening illnesses.
Dr. Chris Edwards is the chief medical officer of Piedmont Columbus Regional.