Bracing for COVID surge, Central CA hospitals dealing with staff shortages

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- With the more contagious Omicron variant spreading, a growing amount of nurses and doctors are out sick.

As hospitals in the Central Valley brace for a surge of cases, they're also facing a shortage of staff.

"It's kind of the story of the pandemic, there's the illness, but there's also constant shortages of everything you could think of and what you wouldn't have imagined," said the chief nursing officer of Kaweah Health Medical Center, Keri Noeske.

Noeske said the current rise in COVID-19 cases is unique compared to previous surges.

RELATED: Fresno area hospitals bracing for surge in Omicron cases

"The surge now is very different. I'm not seeing a lot of hospitalizations, but I am missing a lot of staff to take care of people," she said.

Noeske said Kaweah Health went from less than 40 employees on leave due to COVID-19 to more than 150 in just a week.

It's a similar story at Community Medical Centers.

Right now, 301 employees are off the schedule due to COVID-19 exposure, and 227 of them have tested positive.

"I have the same number of patients I've had for the past couple of months. I have a lot of patients. They just don't all have COVID. But I have a lot of people missing from here, and it's happening at a very rapid pace," Noeske said.

Health experts say the Omicron variant appears to be more contagious than previous variants and is only expected to infect more people in the coming days and weeks.

RELATED: UCSF doctor sees omicron peak in 7 to 10 days, says we should prepare to live with COVID

But Noeske says leaning on what we know to be effective is crucial to stay safe and healthy.

"Wearing a mask helps prevent the spread, and the vaccine helps prevent illness and helps you fight the infection faster," she said.

As hospitals prepare to deal with more cases of the flu, COVID-19 and RSV, they're working twice as hard to care for the sick.

For Noeske, she's hoping more of her staff get well enough to come back to work before they see an influx of patients.

Health experts are also stressing the importance of getting tested when you can and staying home if you are feeling sick to avoid infecting others.

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