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Omicron is an Emergency. Here’s How You Can Help.

Omicron is an Emergency. Here’s How You Can Help.

Submitted By: Jeffrey Feit, MD, Valley Health Population and Community Health Officer

As we enter year three of the pandemic, the caregivers of Valley Health continue to stand tall in supporting our community through successive waves of COVID-19. During the initial wave of cases, our team managed through personal risk, caring for a new and terrible disease in a world short of answers.

In the winter of 2021, our clinicians learned to incorporate COVID-19 care safely into our normal workflow and did both brilliantly. Others worked in the community, partnering with volunteers to give 150,000 COVID vaccines. During the Delta wave, we learned to deliver lifesaving treatments and again rose to the challenge of then-record volumes.

Now we face a new set of challenges. There has been a lot of talk that the Omicron variant is twice as contagious and half as deadly. Broadly, this is true. What you may not have heard is how that impacts your local health system’s ability to care for you and your family.

Omicron generally creates mild illness in the vaccinated (even milder if you are boosted) but can still cause severe disease in the unvaccinated, especially in high-risk groups (those who are older, with chronic illnesses, pregnant, or overweight).

This has led to the community letting its guard down and to explosive growth of cases outside the hospital. With so many cases in the community, we are seeing a higher number of very sick hospitalized patients than at any time in the pandemic, even though the average case is milder. We need your help.

We are working hard to increase the availability of home tests for COVID. These are for people with symptoms who are wondering if they have the virus. If you test positive, you very likely have COVID. You should act as if you do and you do not need further testing. You should immediately isolate to prevent spreading the disease to others.

If you test negative, you should wear a mask, social distance, and retest in a few days if symptoms continue. A second negative means you are unlikely to have COVID. As always, see a doctor for symptoms that are persistent, worsening or otherwise concerning. If you have COVID and are in a high-risk group (as above) contact your primary care doctor to discuss treatment options.

If you are an employer, please do not require employees to get PCR tests or have physician visits related to employment needs. These are unnecessary and make it harder for people who are sick to get needed care.

The CDC now recommends that people with COVID can return to work 5 days after the onset of symptoms if they are feeling better and have no fever. They need to wear a mask for 5 additional days. For additional guidance, visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.

Lastly, please consider getting vaccinated and boosted. Nearly 90% of hospitalized COVID patients are unvaccinated, including nearly all hospitalized patients under 75. Do this for yourself and do it for your family. It’s worth it.