TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — With 2022 fast approaching and the holiday season now in full swing, hospitals across Tampa Bay are bracing as case counts in the community rapidly rise due to the highly contagious omicron variant.
At Tampa General Hospital, cases are climbing at a steady rate and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Peggy Duggan doesn’t expect that trend to slow as we enter the new year.
“For admitted patients in the hospital, it has really risen from a handful, like 10 in the past couple of weeks,” Dr. Duggan said. “We are up to about 40 to 45 and expect to see that continue to rise. It is such an easily transmitted disease that it is a little bit on the challenging side to think we are going to get through this without a pretty significant spike.”
Like many early studies have shown thus far, Dr. Duggan says the infection appears to be milder than the delta variant.
“The length of stay is a little shorter and we haven’t seen that, although we need time to prove our theory, but we have not seen as many people ending up in the ICU or on ventilators. The science does show that the omicron variant is much more involved in the upper respiratory tract and not so much in the lungs where people would be getting the terrible pneumonia that led to the illness in the delta variant so it is definitely a different looking disease,” the Chief Medical Officer at TGH said.
Dr. Duggan said, different from the delta surge, a number of the positive patients admitted are at the hospital for issues unrelated to COVID.
The doctor explains therapeutics that worked for the delta variant haven’t been as effective with the omicron variant.
“During the delta surge, we were full and at capacity and had a lot of very sick patients, but the monoclonal antibody Regeneron was very effective against delta and it helped us keep a large number of people out of the hospital,” Dr. Duggan said. “With omicron, that medication is not active, so it does not help and so we are needing to pivot really follow the science and shift our work.”
At Sarasota Memorial Hospital, cases are also rising. Data released by the hospital showed 45 COVID-positive patients hospitalized with nine in the ICU. The last time the hospital had a similar case count was in mid-October however ICU cases made up about half of the positive population.
Infectious disease specialist with SMH, Dr. Manuel Gordillo cautions the public to remain vigilant with data on the latest variant still limited.
“The cases appear to be relatively mild. When we say mild that means that the proportion of cases that end up in the hospital or dead seem to be less than with delta or with alpha and the previous strains, but it is early because the studies that we have done are in the south African population,” explained Dr. Gordillo. “Keep in mind the South African population is young. The average age in South Africa is 29 y-ears-old as opposed to the US where we are 39 and in Florida we are probably even 10 years older than that on average age. So what will happen as it hits older populations is yet to be found and yet to be discovered,” he continued.
Both doctors continue to urge the public to get vaccinated and boosted if eligible.
“If you haven’t been vaccinated, this is your opportunity to do it and do it quickly, do it this week. This week is better than next week, next week is better than the following week. The earlier that you are protected, the better. This variant is around the corner and as you can remember, it takes seven days for the booster to take effect so do it as fast as you can,” Dr. Gordillo said.
“We really can make a difference and the most effective way is to get vaccinated. There’s no question about it. The changes and the variants and the mutations in this really prove to us that this is going to be a part of our lives and the way we can handle it is the way we handle a lot of other things. People have really gotten comfortable about a flu vaccination; we need to get there with COVID vaccinations,” said Dr. Duggan.
As cases climb, doctors at TGH are urging the public not to go to the ER with COVID symptoms that are not severe. Instead, go to an urgent care location.