Omicron strain brings new concerns for area health care providers

The new Omicron strain of COVID-19 is causing concern among area health care providers.
Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 10:57 PM CST
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Marathon County, Wis. (WSAW) - The new Omicron strain of COVID-19 is causing concern among area health care providers. They’re worried once it reaches the U.S. and eventually Wisconsin, it will set hospitals back even further. Right now, no one knows a lot about the strain since it’s so new. Health experts are pleading with the public to take the right safety precautions before it’s too late.

“The longer a virus exists or mutates, the stronger it can get,” said Marathon County Health Department Public Information Officer Aaron Ruff.

Ruff said it’s only a matter of time before the Omicron variant makes its way into the U.S., which is why he said everyone needs to get their shot.

“Our main concern here is the spread of COVID-19 continues to be high here in Marathon County and it really is impacting individuals who are not fully vaccinated at a much, much higher rate,” Ruff said.

Right now, the severity of the new variant is unknown. While Omicron is a mutation of COVID-19, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more transmissible or severe than the previous strains. However, health experts warn it’s not something that should be taken lightly.

“All of us can do our part to try and decrease the community transmission so we decrease the chance of these variants,” UW-Health Interim Medical Director of Infection Prevention Dr. Dan Shirley said.

Shirley said the effectiveness of vaccines is still unknown, but no matter what, they provide a layer of protection against viruses in general. Over the last month in Marathon County, there were about 750 positive cases of COVID-19 per week. That’s an average of over 100 cases per day. It’s putting strain on hospitals like Marshfield Clinic, which are jam-packed with patients.

“We’re constantly re-prioritizing what we’re doing and where to make sure that we have enough nurses to take care of our patients,” Marshfield Clinic Vice President of Quality Improvement and Patient Safety Tammy Simon said.

Simon said they have an influx of both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients filling beds. She said while they’re OK for now, they expect it will only get worse with Omicron.

“We’re concerned because we continue to see a low vaccination rate in the state of Wisconsin and we know that the vaccine works, patients are less likely to be hospitalized, there’s less likely to have death,” Simon said.

The next step for health experts is to determine just how widespread the variant is.

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