As Samaritan Health Services prepares for a projected surge of COVID-19 patients, health care leaders stress the importance of basic precautions to help prevent the spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant.
“The omicron variant is spreading very quickly,” said Adam Brady, MD, infectious disease physician and chair of Samaritan’s coronavirus task force. “The Oregon Health Authority has estimated that last week alone, about 1 in every 10 Oregonians became infected with COVID-19. While vaccination is still our most powerful tool against the most severe complications of coronavirus, at this point it is also imperative to use other tried-and-true methods to avoid spreading this disease and maintain the capacity of hospitals and health care providers in the coming weeks.”
The basic precautions that have become such a big part of daily life will be even more important as Samaritan and our communities work to keep the surge as manageable as possible over the coming weeks.
These precautions include:
- Wear a good-quality, properly fitting face mask when on errands or around others from outside your household. Medical-grade face masks are now required for all in Samaritan facilities.
- If available, well-fitting N95 or KN95 masks provide the best protection.
- Avoid large gatherings and gathering with groups of people from outside your household – especially with people who are unvaccinated or immunocompromised and have a higher risk for severe disease or hospitalization.
- Stay home when you are sick. If you have any cold or flu like symptoms, isolate yourself away from others even before you get tested, until you know you are in the clear.
“We know people are tired of these precautions by now, and we know that for many the omicron variant will result in relatively minor illness,” said Dr. Brady. “Still, these precautions are as important as ever, considering how easily this variant spreads. It is driving an unprecedented and increasing number of infections and will result in a corresponding increase in hospitalizations.”
Samaritan’s primary three-county service area of Benton, Linn and Lincoln counties is currently seeing a combined average of almost 520 new cases of COVID-19 per day.
The number of hospitalized patients in Samaritan’s facilities in Albany, Corvallis, Lebanon, Lincoln City and Newport has already climbed to a combined seven-day average of about 32 patients per day, whereas recently, the number of inpatients had hovered around 20 patients per day.
By the end of January, experts have predicted a surge of up to 25% more hospitalized coronavirus patients than what was seen with the delta surge, when the Samaritan system at times cared for about 60 COVID-19 inpatients per day, in addition to providing for the wide variety of patients needing hospital care. Samaritan hospitals have been running at or close to full capacity for many months, at times having to send patients to other hospitals in Oregon or even out of state when inpatient beds were scarce.
Though the omicron surge is here, vaccination and boosters are still advised as the most effective way to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Both Moderna and Pfizer boosters are now recommended at 5 months after the primary series (or two months after one Johnson & Johnson shot).
“If you are due for a booster, I strongly suggest you get it right away,” said Dr. Brady.
More information on coronavirus vaccines, authorizations, recommendations and vaccination opportunities in our region may be found at samhealth.org/GetTheVaccine.
“While hospitals and clinics are prepared for the surge, we ask that our communities again take precautions to help minimize the impact of this disease and help us to continue to deliver quality health care during this unprecedented time,” said Dr. Brady. “This is not the time to let our guard down. We thank everyone for doing their part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
For more information on Samaritan Health Services’ response to the pandemic, visit samhealth.org/Coronavirus.