People who have caught omicron could be better protected against other COVID-19 variants

By Mark Brodie
Published: Wednesday, January 12, 2022 - 12:34pm
Updated: Wednesday, January 12, 2022 - 2:13pm

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The state Department of Health Services added 18,783 new cases of COVID-19, along with six deaths, to its dashboard Jan. 12.

Once again, this omicron surge of COVID is forcing area hospitals to operate on the margins. Banner Health’s Marjorie Bessel outlined the impact omicron is having at Banner hospitals during a virtual press conference Jan. 11.

Dr. Marjorie Bessel
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Marjorie Bessel

“We have started to see COVID hospitalizations pick up again. They’ve been on an upward trend since around Jan. 1, and today nearly a third of our inpatient beds are occupied by COVID or suspected COVID patients," Bessel said. "At this time, roughly 90% of those COVID patients are unvaccinated.”

Earlier this week, Dignity Health circulated a staff memo that indicated employees who are experiencing mild symptoms or are asymptomatic of COVID-19 may keep working. Bessel was asked in the Jan. 11 conference if Banner would follow the same policy.

“We are currently following CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance and we have a very strict process for return-to-work. That guidance has been in place for some period of time and, as we all are aware, there are changes that the CDC has allowed if staffing has become more severe and in more shortage than it is, currently. All individuals who are coming to work are asked to be screened for symptomatology and return to work processes will remain in place throughout the rest of this pandemic," Bessel said.

dave engelthaler
Dr. Dave Engelthaler is director of the Infections Disease Division of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

Bessel also announced that the surge in Banner hospitals will result in a reduction of hours and temporary closures of the health group’s urgent care facilities.

The omicron variant has been dominant in Arizona for a little while now, and while infections tend to lead to milder cases, it is proving to be more transmissible than previous mutations.

But why is that, and what might it tell us about where this coronavirus is going?

To find out, The Show spoke with Dr. Dave Engelthaler, director of the Infectious Disease Division at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), and asked what it is about omicron that makes it spread so easily and quickly.

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