Omicron variant impacts Valley Children's hospitalizations, staffing

MADERA COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- The new year came with a huge rise in COVID-19 case rates for Valley Children's Healthcare.

"Our test positivity rate jumped up to almost 30% within the first two weeks of January," explained Dr. Nael Mhaissen, the medical director for infectious disease & infection. "That's consistent with this widespread Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19, that the rest of the country has seen."

The surge was expected by healthcare workers, but Dr. Mhaissen said it's a surge not quite like the ones in the past.

According to healthcare officials, the Omicron variant is more contagious, but symptoms seem to be a bit mild.

However, Dr. Mhaissen said the younger population is feeling the impact of the new variant more than adults.

"We've seen babies, a few days old, a few months old, that have the infection, unfortunately," he said. "We do see some that are in school-age children, and also we see some that are teenagers."

Data shows there were two hospitalizations the week of December 6. A month later, that number jumped to 11. Almost all hospitalizations were children not vaccinated.

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Dr. Mhaissen contributed that jump to holiday gatherings and a return to school.
"Especially with the cold weather, most people are spending their gatherings indoors, where the ventilation is not optimal, necessarily. It's easier for the virus to spread from one person to another," he said.

The virus is also impacting Valley Children's staff. Some have tested positive, and others have been exposed, requiring them to call out for work and quarantine.

"That has affected our staffing, our ability to care for our patients in the way that we want to," Dr. Mhaissen said. "So still providing excellent care, we do, but it's also making things more challenging for us."

In addition, Valley Children's is seeing a spike in RSV and flu cases, adding even more of a strain on the healthcare system.

Officials continue to stress the importance of children getting the COVID vaccine and the booster, if eligible.

"That will, again, add another layer of protection against getting the infection and passing the infection to the young ones that are not eligible for the vaccine yet," said Dr. Mhaissen.

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