Jan. 13—For the first time in months, officials from all over the City of Odessa held a COVID-19-related press conference Thursday and the overwhelming message was: If you're sick, stay home.
Officials from Odessa Fire Rescue, Medical Center Hospital, Odessa Regional Medical Center, UTPB and Ector County Independent School District met with members of the media via Zoom to share the latest news on COVID.
Odessa Regional Medical Center Chief of Staff Dr. Rohith Saravanan said the number of COVID-positive patients in Odessa is close to the highest levels seen since the start of the pandemic.
"This is not the conversation that we wanted to be having. In November when we saw the Delta variant surge start to come down our hope was we could say goodbye to COVID in 2021 and say hello to a new '22. Unfortunately this silly Omicron variant starts to show up," and is more infectious than the earlier variants, Saravanan said.
On the positive side, however, Saravanan said vaccinated people infected with Omicron are being hospitalized at lower numbers than those who were infected with other variants and they are recovering quickly.
MCH president and CEO Russell Tippin said they are seeing recovery rates of three to five days among the vaccinated.
Unlike several months ago, Saravanan pointed out we now have vaccines, oral drugs are available and so are monoclonal antibody treatments.
The doctor said we're seeing high hospital numbers simply because of the sheer numbers of people catching the virus. Fifty percent of those being tested right now are testing positive, he said.
It's for that reason Saravanan and the others at the press conference urge people who feel under the weather to stay home. They're not worried about the availability of beds at local hospitals, but rather the number of doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists who are needed to treat them.
Since the pandemic, thousands of health care workers have left the industry because of burnout and many are currently home sick with the virus, Saravanan said.
Saravanan said COVID is unlikely to completely go away.
"We're going to see new variants come up time and time again," Tippin said.
"It's going to get through the population and then there's going to be nobody left to infect. True, this variant will have no one left to infect and then there will be another variant and it will want to infect everyone else again," Saravanan said. "This is eventually going to become what we call endemic, which means it's around, like the flu. It's going to be around, but hopefully it's not going to cause severe enough disease for us to see what we have today, which is hundreds of employees out of work, hundreds of people not being able to go to school and it's affecting our lives by putting us in the hospital, shutting down our businesses and things like that."
Saravanan urged everyone to continue to wear their masks and wash their hands, but most importantly, stay home.
"If you're sick, please isolate yourself. If you're sick and have any symptoms, don't say 'It's seasonal allergies, Oh it's just a cold, Oh it's just a sore throat.' No it's not," Saravanan said. "Think about what's in our community right now. Fifty percent of the tests being done are coming back positive for COVID. If you're sick, it's most likely COVID."
If you've got symptoms, the doctor said it's not even necessary to get tested, unless you need a negative test result to go back to work.
"If you've got the symptoms, it's safe to assume that's what you have," he said.
Among the other news revealed at the press conference:
Medical Center Hospital has 73 employees out due to COVID-19. Odessa Regional Medical Center has 34 out and Scenic Mountain Medical Center has 24 out. All facilities have requested additional staffing assistance, but said they are not yet close to having to eliminate elective surgeries or open tent wings.
Three hundred people were tested as of 3:30 p.m. Thursday at the City of Odessa's newest testing site at UTPB. Although there were some "hiccups" early in the day because of an overwhelming response, those have been worked out, said Assistant Odessa Fire Rescue Chief Rodd Huber.
The UTPB testing site is located at the softball and soccer fields on the northeast corner of the campus and will operate seven days a week, including Martin Luther King Jr. Day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. People need to register by texting DOCSTX to 41411.
The City of Odessa's Regeneron monoclonal antibody treatment clinic at MCH has served 4,200 people so far and the state has extended the clinic another 30 days, Huber said.
MCH had 89 COVID patients Thursday. Twenty-six were in critical condition and 19 of them were on ventilators.
ORMC had 26 COVID patients Thursday and four were on ventilators. Scenic Mountain had 12 COVID patients and three were in ICU. Ninety percent of the patients were unvaccinated and 69% were 50 years of age or older.
Eight hundred and fifty ECISD staff and students have tested positive for COVID since Monday. The district is conducting 150 tests a day.
"It's hitting us just like everyone else so it's all hands on deck to cover classes," said Alicia Syverson, associate superintendent.
The University of Texas Permian Basin reported 29 positive cases Thursday. Both UTPB and ECISD reported staff members are doing what they can to limit the spread through constant sanitizing.