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A New Variant, Same Old Concerns

A New Variant, Same Old Concerns

Omicron arrived in our communities, and brought a familiar wave of uncertainty with it.

When it was discovered, Omicron worried scientists.

The variant looked vastly different from previous versions of the coronavirus. It was also clear that this new strain of the virus came with an advanced ability to elude our vaccines and spread quickly from person to person.

With the discovery of Omicron came the typical questions. What sets it apart from its predecessors? How severe are its symptoms? Is it more or less deadly than other variants?

With infections at an all-time high in our community and across the U.S., the clinical picture reveals what other countries have already seen—a typical case of Omicron presents slightly differently and also likely carries a lower chance of getting seriously ill. However, vaccination is still critical when it comes to keeping our communities safe and hospitalization rates low.

As with any variant of coronavirus, the risk of infection depends on many factors, including whether you're vaccinated, received your booster shot, your age, and your overall health. The big danger with all coronavirus infections is that a “mild” illness will turn into a life-threatening one. Even if Omicron is less severe than the delta variant, it is still hospitalizing people and causing deaths—and for people who are at high risk, such as older people or those with underlying health conditions, the chance of being hospitalized is still significant.

“Omicron is highly contagious and highly transmissible and it’s disabling workforces, not just ours, but everyone we rely on,” said Keri Noeske, Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer at Kaweah Health. “We’re asking everyone – our community and our staff – to be careful out there. Please exercise good practices – wear masks, get fully vaccinated, wash your hands, and stay six feet apart from others. Anything we can do to prevent the spread in the community will help Valley hospitals with staffing.”

The rate at which Omicron swiftly spread in the community in late December indeed impacted Kaweah Health’s ability to staff its hospital. In just one week (December 27 - January 3), employees out on COVID-related leaves skyrocketed from 33 to 201, and the number continued to climb to an all-time high of 273 in mid-January. As of January 31, the positivity rate in Tulare County was 32.5%, which was more than double the state’s positivity rate of 14.5%.

“Our health system has never stopped being impacted since the pandemic started,” Noeske said noting that throughout the pandemic, many people delayed care and medical appointments and are now in need of hospitalization for more severe illnesses.

Of course, Kaweah Health is just one of a number of Central Valley hospitals currently struggling with staffing shortages as a result of Omicron’s rapid spread in the community. Nationwide, the pandemic has also fueled the nursing shortage as the demand for nurses and bedside care has rapidly increased in step with hospitalizations.

Thankfully, the tools you can use to fight Omicron are the same tools we have been using since the start of the pandemic. Protect yourself and others by using good infection prevention practices and getting vaccinated, then boosted. Help us stop the spread of COVID-19 in all its forms. Your community hospital needs your urgent help.


*Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Vaccines and Boosters

Vaccines remain the best public health measure to protect people from COVID-19, slow transmission, and reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging. COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death.


Masks offer protection against all variants. The CDC continues to recommend wearing a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission, regardless of vaccination status.

Social Distance

Stay six feet away from others. Avoid close contact with people who are sick and remember that some people without symptoms may be able to spread virus.


Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.