Doctors keeping an eye on omicron variant as hospitals still at max capacity

Posted at 6:54 PM, Nov 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-29 19:57:01-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Dr. Liam Sullivan of Spectrum Health is keeping an eye on the new emerging Omicron variant. However, right now, he’s focused on what’s going on in front him: helping hospitalized patients beat COVID-19.

“Last time I looked, close to 90 percent of our COVID hospitalized patients are not vaccinated,” Dr. Sullivan said during a Zoom interview with FOX 17 on Monday afternoon. “Then if they’re in the ICU about 95 percent are unvaccinated.”

Dr. Sullivan, who's an adult infectious disease specialist at Spectrum,
said there’s many patients within the hospital group battling a variety of ailments and illnesses. However, those who have been admitted for COVID are unvaccinated, which is forcing hospitals to reach max capacity

“When I looked this morning it looks to me that we’re higher than at any point that we’ve ever been in the past and that includes our surge last fall and the one in the spring,” Dr Sullivan said. “It’s very, very busy. It’s stressful. Everybody’s working hard, working a lot and it's not a good time right now in the hospital.”

Despite the busyness at the hospital, he said they’re paying attention to the spread of Omicron variant.

“It was first identified in South Africa and the concern right now is how does it compare to Delta? And, how contagious is it?,” Dr. Sullivan said. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions about it right now. I think it’s going to take a couple of weeks before we really sort out these answers, before we know more information.”

According to the World Health Organization, the Omicron variant first appeared in South Africa in early November. Since then, cases have been discovered in Europe, Asia, Australia, and now North America.

Dr. Sullivan said there’s a good chance that it’s in the United States now.

“It would not at all surprise me if it’s already present in the United States and potentially even in Michigan.  It’s hard to say,” he said. “To think that it’s not in the United States right now would be a naive point of view.”

Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services agreed that there’s many questions surrounding the new variant that can’t be answered right now.

However, so far it seems that the new variant is more transmissible than others, she said.

“In terms of severity again we’re still waiting for some of that data to emerge. The cases that were reported in South Africa were in young individuals who are generally healthy and they had milder disease,” said Dr. Bagdasarian, chief medical executive with the MDHHS. “Now that doesn’t really tell us what would happen on a population level or what would happen to someone who was elderly or who had a lot of other medical issues.”

She reiterated that with more research, questions will be answered. But, she said now’s a critical time in Michigan’s hospitals as the state is in the midst of its fourth surge.

So, she stressed the significance of getting the vaccine.

“The more we allow this virus to transmit, the more we’re giving it opportunities to mutate,” Dr. Bagdasarian said. “So, the more transmission occurs the more that there’s the likelihood of other variants emerging. And, so our best protection, our best defense against more variants is to make sure as many people as possible are immunized.”

Dr. Sullivan agreed.

He said even if a person is healthy or had COVID-19 before, it’s important to get vaccinated now to remain out of the hospital and alive.

“I’ll say it ’til I’m blue in the face: it’s not too late to get vaccinated,” Dr. Sullivan said. “The single best thing you can do to protect yourself against COVID-19 is if you never had any immunity to this virus is to get vaccinated. Getting vaccinated is safer than getting infected.”