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Omicron surge hitting San Diego County employers hard

All of the region’s largest employers are finding it hard to keep staffing levels up in the midst of the current surge of COVID infections. KPBS Reporter Erik Anderson has details.

The region's employers are dealing with large numbers of infected employees, making the work environment challenging

The San Diego region’s employers are finding it hard to keep staffing levels up in the midst of the current surge of COVID-19 infections.

Health officials say the omicron variant is now the region’s dominant COVID-19 strain and the virus is driving record numbers of infections.

As of Wednesday, the state had 8,032 hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

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Mike Damron
COVID 19 testing site in City Heights on Jan. 3, 2022.

As a result, state officials have extended the state’s requirement to wear masks indoors another month until Feb. 15.

Big employers — like Sharp HealthCare — are being buffeted by the disease.

RELATED: San Diego County residents scramble to get COVID-19 tests

“At present, we have 510 Sharp COVID team members that are COVID-19 positive and currently not working,” said Chris Howard, Sharp Healthcare CEO. “And without a doubt, the current omicron surge is exacerbating what has already been a difficult situation in terms of staffing.”

Howard said the situation is not the same as last winter. There are fewer people being treated for serious COVID-19 ailments this year compared to the surge a year ago. However, there are also fewer people to care for those who need medical help.

“We have 250 hospitalizations today, versus the 600 we had a year ago," he said. "So we’re not nearly at the capacity we were this time last year. Nor are other facilities.”

UC San Diego’s Medical complex is also feeling the crush of new infections. That hospital facility has had more than 600 positive COVID cases among staff members in the past week.

RELATED: With omicron driving COVID surge, California extends indoor mask mandate

“From the very first patients that we took from Wuhan China when the first planes landed at Miramar and to now, this has been where I’ve been the most concerned about where we sit and it's just because every day so many staff are going out,” said Patty Maysent, UC San Diego Health CEO.

Officials say 196 UC San Diego Health staffers had positive tests in just a 24-hour period early this week.

San Diego State University officials are putting off in-person instruction until February and San Diego Unified is pausing extracurricular sports practices during their winter break. The school district is also requiring vaccines to participate in extracurricular activities.

RELATED: Testing company reports Los Angeles case of 'flurona' in teen

San Diego firefighters have cut back on services because of infections.

San Diego County officials say their workforce has been fluctuating between about 165 and 200 positive cases per day out of more than 18,000 employees.

“We shift personnel around to make sure mission-critical tasks are handled,” said Mike Workman, a spokesman for San Diego County. “Clearly this is impacting many employers around San Diego and we continue to urge vaccination and adherence to the guidelines.”

San Diego region’s largest employers - like everywhere else - are finding it hard to keep staffing levels up in the midst of the current surge of COVID-19 infections. Meanwhile, There is a new way to get around Encinitas with colorful electric bikes and docks along Coast Highway. And, last month congress threw out plans to require women to register for the draft. More on how supporters of gender-neutral registration say they'll keep working to include women.

Corrected: January 10, 2022 at 12:36 PM PST
An earlier version of this story misspelled UC San Diego Health CEO Patty Maysent's name. KPBS regrets the error.