Though the risk of hospitalization with an Omicron infection appears to be much less than with Delta or other variants, its rapid transmission rate does pose concerns for Monroe County.
“The evidence suggests that the Omicron variant is probably less severe, but it is so much more infectious that it may infect more people and the sheer numbers of people infected may lead to as many people requiring hospitalization, and that’s our real concern,” said Michael Apostolakos M.D., chief medical officer of University of Rochester Medical Center.
While the current monoclonal antibodies are not effective against Omicron, there is a newer monoclonal antibody treatment that is, he said, adding that UR received its first shipment today.
“Once again, it’s not enough to care for as many people that need the drug,” Apostolakos said.
He was part of a COVID-19 briefing Thursday with Michael Mendoza M.D., Monroe County public health commissioner, who expects positive COVID cases to continue to rise in the coming weeks—surpassing today’s total of 680. UR Medicine’s central lab facility, one of handful of labs designated by New York to conduct genetic sequencing of COVID-positive test samples, confirmed the presence of Omicron in Monroe County on Dec. 22.
“If we do not get on top of this, there could be major disruptions,” Mendoza said. “If, for example, so many of us get sick at once, it will affect our businesses, our workplaces and our schools … and our health care systems.”
Apostolakos said the community should assume that the prevalence of Omicron is already high. It will soon be the dominant form of COVID here, if it isn’t already. It is likely that more of those who are vaccinated might get infected with the new variant, said Robert Mayo M.D., chief medical officer at Rochester Regional Health.
“But do not conclude that the vaccine has not worked,” he said. “The vaccine continues to protect you and protect you from serious illness even if a breakthrough case occurs.”
Within its five hospitals in the Finger Lakes, RRH has 196 patients admitted with COVID-19. Forty-five are in the ICU—32 percent of them are on a ventilator, Mayo said. Four of its hospitals are on a restricted surgical schedule in compliance with state regulations. Essential surgeries continue.
At Strong Memorial Hospital, 126 patients have COVID, including 45 in the ICU. Those numbers, Apostolakos said, represent a significant increase from two weeks ago, when Strong had 98 patients with COVID and 37 in the ICU. Overall hospitalization has stabilized, however, providing capacity to care for COVID and non-COVID patients.
“Whether we can maintain that capacity will depend largely on the decisions of people make during this holiday season,” said Apostolakos, who was joined by the others in urging safe celebration, double masking, vaccines and boosters.
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.