Schools go virtual, airlines cancel flights, pharmacies and testing centers temporarily close, grocery store shelves empty due to transportation delays, blood donations fall to crisis levels for the first time and the country’s hospitals are stretching. This is the US in the hands of the Omicron variant.
Omicron may cause milder symptoms in some people, but its effects are reverberating across the United States and creating some of the greatest challenges from the covid-19 pandemic.
“We have supply shortages, we have transportation shortages, which are the result of people being out due to Covid, and especially Omicron for being so infectious. And that’s obviously limiting the workforce, and limiting the workforce is creating some of the havoc that we’re all experiencing, ”said Ezekiel Emanuel, vice chancellor of the University of Pennsylvania.
Joe Biden has swore to keep businesses and schools open, but some experts wonder if that’s possible given the nature of Omicron and the lack of adequate measures to combat it.
“The economy can’t stay open and schools can’t stay open when so many people get sick,” said Margaret Thornton, an educational researcher at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. “We have to take steps to stop the spread so that schools keep running, so businesses keep running,” he said, but much of that action has been slow.
To control Omicron and future waves, officials must rely on tried and true tactics, from testing to high-quality masks and better ventilation, some health experts say.
“We now have tools like N95 masks, vaccines, treatments and rapid diagnostics to help prevent infection and reduce the severity of disease,” said Rick Bright, executive director of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Pandemic Prevention Institute and a former State Department official. from USA Health. “However, we must do more to make them affordable and available to all, with clear guidance on when and how to use them most effectively.”
Faced with an astronomical increase in cases and hospitalizations, health systems have been affected. Omicron comes on the heels of a devastating Delta wave in the fall and shortages of existing personnel and supplies, with little chance of recovery. The seven-day average of infections in the U.S. is now running in more than 750,000 cases, much more than during the Delta peak.
“It was consecutive,” said Jorge Moreno, an assistant professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine. “It is affecting all sectors of healthcare.”
Health workers have spoken out on social media about being asked to volunteer to restock supplies and answer phones, or to volunteer at cleaning, food service and transportation. A resident physician was reportedly order to work as a scrubbing technician, a job they were never trained for and not paid for. Meanwhile, the nurses in New York are so exhausted that there are parts of the facility where nobody is programmed to monitor patients.
“We can have an empty bed, but if there is no nurse to handle it or even a doctor to handle it, there is no way to handle the patient. So we are really in a crisis, ”Moreno said. “We are on the verge of exploding right now,” and with hospitalizations a week or two behind on cases, the worst is yet to come, he said.
Hospitals across the country may already be more crowded than official figures suggest. In Maryland, hospitals are 87% full, according to official reports, but are actually closer to or over 100% of capacity, according to one report. analysis.
There are also fewer hospitals now than when the pandemic began, particularly in rural areas. In 2020, 19 rural hospitals closed – the most in a year since 2005, when data first began to be collected.
Omicron is also responsible for the staff shortages in nursing homes. That leads to facilities limiting the number of new patient admissions, and a back in hospitals between patients who could transition to a lower level of care.
Child care facilities are also facing an increase in cases and a shortage of staff. Daycare centers were already overloaded, with some centers losing up to 90% of workers from December. According to Cindy Lehnhoff, director of the National Association for Child Care, “catastrophicThe shortage has affected about 80% of centers across the country, leading to closures and long waiting lists.
Schools have also struggled to stay in person. “It is chaos. It’s complete chaos, ”Thornton said. In Philadelphia, for example, there are now 98 schools that have gone virtual, he said. “There really aren’t enough adults well enough to be in the building.”
Leaders have “gotten the reasoning backwards” about keeping schools open, he said. “This administration has said they prioritize schools because of the economy, to get parents back to work. And I think that’s just a really retrograde approach. We need to prioritize schools because they are important to children. “
In schools, there are proven ways to reduce the spread of either variant. You just have to take action, Thornton said.
These measures include well-managed remote options for those who want them in order to reduce classroom sizes and reduce exposure risks. Regular testing, in which families choose to participate rather than choose not to participate, would make a big difference, as well as providing guidance on what to do if the test comes back positive. Making sure all students have high-quality masks is also essential, Thornton said.
“Keeping schools open and the economy running is very important and a real challenge as so much of society is going to get sick in the coming weeks,” Bright said. “I think we can do it safely. However, we must follow the science, use the tools at our disposal and use the tools we have appropriately. “
“The reality is that Covid-19 is not going away anytime soon. We need to go from crisis to control, ”he said.
“We’re going to have a tough next two or three weeks,” Emanuel said. But if measures can be implemented, it would have a huge effect.
And any measures put in place now will help address future surges, Bright said. “I think the next variant is already lurking among us now, which makes it even more critical that we move forward and stop it before it has a chance to spread like Omicron did.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism