With the recent surge in COVID cases – 6,500 new cases reported in the county on Wednesday – and the easy transmission of the Omicron variant, are our hospitals prepared?
According to Dr. Donald David, Chief Medical Officer of West Hills Hospital, the answer here in the west valley is a resounding “yes.”
“This is a very different disease now from a hospital perspective than it was before,” David told Valley News Group. “Our ICU is not full. The COVID patient load is not straining resources. The new variant is one that’s a lot more manageable.”
At present David said that they have six COVID patients currently hospitalized. All are unvaccinated. The average at West Hills Hospital is currently between four and seven cases a week – compared to January 2021 where there were over 100 in the hospital.
“We have one of the lowest rates in the country,” said David. “It speaks well of vaccination rates in the area. Other hospitals with a lower vaccinated population have higher numbers.”
All staff and all visitors at West Hills must be vaccinated.
“The vaccine is your insurance against getting super sick,” explained David. “If you get Omicron it’s going to be like a cold, not severe enough to warrant hospitalization. We haven’t had a single patient admitted that’s vaccinated.”
He said however, that the Delta variant is different. “Not to scare people in to getting vaccinated, but… people who got Delta and went on a ventilator never got better. Delta is still a dominant strain and it’s bad,” he cautioned.
Being vaccinated also means that it’s safe to come to the hospital if you have medical issues. “We’re not seeing as many cases of advanced disease where people were afraid to go to the doctor or the hospital because of COVID,” said David. “We’re now seeing them in a regular pattern. Acuity in the ER is not as much. This is a new normal we can manage.”
Even with a post-holiday surge David says the hospital is ready. “We had one after Thanksgiving, we’ll probably have one after Christmas,” he said. “Those will be symptomatic – but can be treated as outpatients. Our biggest concern is those that aren’t getting boosted for whatever reason.”
He stressed that access to vaccines is not a problem. Retail pharmacies can administer them on the spot. “If you have two doses of Pfizer, you should probably get the third from Moderna. Mix and match for the best protection,” David explained. “There’s no risk to doing that. Buy yourself a little insurance.”
He stressed that if you’re having people over for the holidays you should be boosted. Have people tested before they come over. If you have the sniffles – stay home – as much from the risk of spreading a cold or flu as COVID.
David said that a good idea is to get tested right before you come to the party. At-home rapid tests are available at most pharmacies (though it takes a lot of phone calls to find a supply as they are in high demand). “It’s $20 for two tests,” David said. “ It’s a great strategy this holiday, especially if someone at home is at great risk.”
He said that by January there should be an unlimited supply of at-home tests to deliver to your house. “We can’t do that for flu; I wish we could,” he said.
He stressed that no matter what, the hospital is in a perpetual state of diligence, “We’re confident we can handle whatever comes our way.”