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Much like the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals across the U.S. are becoming increasingly inundated with COVID patients as a result of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Currently, ICU utilization is more than 60% in most states, and many hospitals are understaffed amid labor shortages.
“It’s not just the stress of the lack of beds, but this time around we have less staff to address our concerns, and the staff that we do have to leave due to COVID,” Dr. Christopher Colbert, assistant program director of emergency medicine residency at the University of Illinois, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “So any way in which we can mitigate some of the negative effects as staff and in reference to patients has helped significantly.”
In Illinois, where Colbert is based, the governor has been deploying health care workers to hospitals throughout the state to help with understaffing amid the pandemic.
President Biden is also sending military medical teams to several states across the country to help alleviate the burden on hospitals.
Bringing in outside help “is a great effort and a great move in reference to decreasing some of the stress that we have as medical providers because as opposed to prior waves of COVID that have admitted to the hospital, with this wave we have less staff,” Colbert said.
'The ripple effect' of the Supreme Court's decision amid Omicron surge
The best way to prevent hospital systems from getting overwhelmed is by getting fully vaccinated and boosted, according to numerous public health officials.
And the Supreme Court overturning President Biden’s vaccine mandate for all companies with 100 employees or more while still maintaining Biden’s vaccine mandate for health care workers “prolongs the ripple effect of individuals not receiving the vaccine,” Colbert said. “The biggest challenge with this is that the admits to the hospital, those patients presented to the hospital, their occupation has no relevance to their medical diagnosis. So whether you work in the private sector, whether you work in the public sector, everyone is able to get COVID.”
Unvaccinated individuals are as much as 20 times more likely to die from the virus.
'Stay the course'
For Americans continuing with everyday life and interacting with others outside the household, Colbert advised using as much caution as possible.
“The biggest item is to be vigilant, to adhere to recommendations, and everyone stay the course," Colbert said. "It’s our hope that if everyone stays the course of maintaining policies of wearing the mask and isolating themselves as we should and getting vaccinated, when this peak comes and as long as we adhere to those recommendations, we can move forward in a really, really good direction.”
Some added help is on the way: At-home tests are becoming more available to the public after the Biden administration announced that starting on Jan. 15, insurers will be required to cover the cost of eight at-home COVID tests per covered individual per month, on top of an unlimited amount of coverage for being tested as ordered by a health care provider.
“I think it’s great that Joe Biden is putting forward all initiatives to make these more readily accessible and to ensure that the conversation we always have with patients, with individuals who call the hospital and ask, if you’re concerned about a test, take the test," Colbert said. "Don’t just walk blindly and not take these tests. If you don’t have the resources, find the resources so we can decrease the spread of this virus.”
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.