Local hospitals confident in ability to fight omicron
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Researchers say it's almost inevitable that the Omicron variant will be identified in San Diego soon, but a San Diego union Tribune report finds that local hospital officials are not overly concerned about that variant. And it's not because OCN isn't dangerous. It's because after a year and a half of surges and problems, healthcare providers have a battle weary confidence that they can handle. Whatever is coming down. The pike. Joining me is San Diego union Tribune health reporter, Paul Sissen and Paul. Welcome. Thanks for
Speaker 2: (00:34)
Having me, our
Speaker 1: (00:35)
Local hospitals preparing for the rival of Theron variant.
Speaker 2: (00:39)
That's a good question. You knows it's a little, yes, it's a little, no. I mean, uh, we have had the flu season ramping up in a way that it didn't last year for months now, and they've been really kind of rushing to get as much capacity online as they can, assuming that flu cases are going to be quite bad this winter. Uh, so, you know, talking to people, it seemed like they, they were feeling like, gosh, we're doing everything we can to ramp up our capacity. We have a labor shortage going on. We have a larger number of non COVID related cases coming in than was the case last year when a lot of, uh, elective procedures were, uh, being delayed or canceled, uh, to make room for COVID. So, so my sense is that they're just, uh, they feel like they're, they're doing the max of what they can to prepare for everything that's likely to come at them. Uh, and so, uh, one more thing at this point there, there's just not a lot of additional response to, to bring forward. Now,
Speaker 1: (01:35)
If there is a winter surge propelled by the new variant, what measures are healthcare systems planning to put in to place,
Speaker 2: (01:43)
Uh, you know, the same ones that they really you, you learned to use last year when, when we had that huge spike in the, uh, in the winter of 20, 20, uh, 2021 that they, uh, they found themselves very quickly, like I said, delaying, uh, non-emergency procedures, uh, and a, probably a fair amount of, uh, of the surge, non COVID cases that we saw this summer had to do with procedures that got delayed last year. And everybody has a story of not being able to get in for routine appointments and things like that. So, so that's one of the first levers that they will pull and they did already pull it a little bit over the summer with the summer Delta search that we had, you know, they'll start being more aggressive about delaying things. Aren't absolute emergencies. Uh, this isn't necessarily a very good thing to be doing.
Speaker 2: (02:28)
Uh, you know, you're talking about things like, uh, cancerous tumors that end up staying in people's bodies for longer than they otherwise would, uh, as they're making space for COVID patients or flu patients or people who are in an actual Ayre emergency. So delaying of procedures is kind of the biggest celebrity that they, they can pull the other, the other significant, uh, thing that they might end up doing is not taking as many transfers, uh, as they usually do. San Diego has a lot of big hospitals and in 2020 and 2021, we took a lot of transfers from Imperial county and other places, uh, that don't have quite the, uh, medical resources that we do here. Uh, if us, our hospitals begin to really fill up, uh, there will be less transfers, uh, capable from other, uh, parts of the state. And that could really, uh, kind of cause the situation, other places to be even worse.
Speaker 1: (03:16)
So as regards research into our scientists, becoming convinced it's more contagious than Delta.
Speaker 2: (03:23)
Yeah. It seems like, uh, what they're seeing from South Africa really does and, you know, and how it's spread to other countries so rapidly does seem to, to have, uh, mounting evidence that it spreads more quickly than Delta. Uh, the, the big open question is how much has it escaped our existing, uh, protection from vaccines and from natural immunity from, from Delta and other variants, uh, that's something that takes them a little longer to research improve. So that's why we don't really have, uh, as solid of a lead yet on whether or not it's, it's escaping our immunity.
Speaker 1: (03:53)
And how do vaccines hold up against the new variant
Speaker 2: (03:56)
We know for the Delta variant, that they are very good, good at preventing hospitalization and death. Even if people who are vaccinated still get infected, uh, we don't know as much for . They are researching that right now. And, uh, and that is really the big question. It seems like the infection is more likely, but whether or not, uh, the vaccine can prevent severe illness is something that, uh, that many, many smart people across the globe are furiously trying to figure out as we speak that there are a fair amount of anecdotes that cases we've seen in California, for example, have all been quite mild. Uh, and there are a number of reports across the globe of, of mild illness, but they really need to do some significant lab work and, and, um, and more epidemiological research to really know that true. What
Speaker 1: (04:41)
Are San Diego public health officials saying about the imminent arrival of OCRA? They have
Speaker 2: (04:46)
Been quite, uh, quiet so far in terms of exactly what they intend to do about this. They have put out a couple short statements last week that indicate that people should keep getting vaccinated and go out and get their booster shots, uh, as much as possible. And, uh, you know, they, they continue to talk about trying to avoid large gatherings and wearing your mask, but they haven't yet come out and said whether they intend to take any, any more stringent public health action. Uh, as you recall, of course, we, we were, uh, we were in a shutdown down situation all the way through till, uh, June of this year. Uh, we, we had a much stronger mask mandate back then than we have now tech technically the, the health policy at the moment is that anybody who ha who has COVID vaccinated can go indoors for, to stores and gatherings and what have you without a mask. Uh, and so they, they haven't really said whether they intend to change that or not. They, they have been silent on that so far, but we do have an update from Dr. Wilma Wooten, uh, county public health officer to the port of supervisors at their, uh, regular tomorrow. So it may be that we'll hear a little more about that. Uh, soon
Speaker 1: (05:45)
Are the number of people getting booster shots in San Diego. I, I is that number rising?
Speaker 2: (05:50)
It is increasing, uh, the last number we got from the county, uh, on Wednesday indicated that we were, uh, approaching 500,000, uh, people who have gotten boosters. Uh, but we know that everybody age 18 and older, who is, uh, two weeks from their second dose is eligible for a booster. So it, it seems like there's still quite a few people out there who could get boosted, who haven't and even,
Speaker 1: (06:14)
So even if they do get boosted, as you say, it's not clear that new vaccinations and booster shots will help avoid a holiday surge this month. And why is that?
Speaker 2: (06:24)
Uh, it all comes down to, uh, whether or not the, the antibodies that we get from the vaccine are a good match for, for OCN. Uh, if they aren't then, uh, then we might still see quite a surge, but what, uh, some researchers spoken to have said is, you know, the mutations that are in Omicron look very similar to some other variants that we've seen before, not necessarily Delta, but others. Uh, one, one that even came out of, uh, South Africa. And, um, in those cases, it looked like having a lot of antibody in your system when you're exposed to those variants seems to, uh, produce a more mild illness. And so there is reason to suspect that, uh, that boosters and getting, uh, getting a fresh dose of antibodies produced in your body, right as this new variant is arriving, will likely have some positive effect, at least at reducing the burden on our healthcare resources. Uh, but we just don't know that for sure. Again,
Speaker 1: (07:15)
I've been speaking with San Diego union Tribune health reporter, Paul Sissen, Paul as always. Thank you so much. Thank you.
Researchers say it’s almost inevitable that the omicron variant of COVID-19 will be identified in San Diego soon.
A San Diego Union-Tribune report, however, finds that local hospital officials are not overly concerned about it.
The reasons for this confidence aren't because omicron isn’t dangerous, but instead because — after a year and a half of surges and staffing problems - health care providers have adopted a battle-weary attitude that they can handle whatever challenges a new variant may present.