Arizona health official on omicron: 'We have not reached our peak yet'

Banner Health's chief clinical officer, Dr. Marjorie Bessel, is warning Arizonans on Jan. 24 that "we have not reached our peak yet" amid the spread of the omicron variant.

Although hospital beds remain open, and crisis care standards have not been implemented, she's urging Arizona residents to "remain vigilant".

Vaccinations, masking and social distancing remain the motto to keep from hospitalization.

Some doctors are thankful for the timing of omicron, as it helped to slow down the peak of the delta variant. However, a new issue has arisen: a lack of resources for antibody treatments.

Banner does have multiple locations where you can receive monoclonal antibodies, but because of the scarcity, there are criteria that you must meet.

"It is in scary supply at this time. Banner does have multiple locations where you can receive monoclonal antibodies. But because of the scarcity, there is a tiering of criteria that you must meet to get monoclonal antibody," Bessel explained.

On Monday, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported nearly 15,000 new cases and one more death.

Bessel also revealed a "very limited number" of elective surgeries are being canceled. However, they continue to advise "non-emergencies" to seek assistance through other places such as urgent care.

Health care workers say just like the hospitals they're working at, they're also reaching their capacity, physically and mentally.

Physically, many vaccinated employees are getting breakthrough infections. Several urgent care centers have closed temporarily because workers have called out sick. Mentally, the chronic experience of having patients die during every shift is leaving many emotionally depleted.

Cindy Smith is an ICU nurse at Valleywise Health and says, "I help people die all the time, but I’m not used to all patients dying all the time."

The ongoing pandemic is taking its toll on those who treat the most severe patients. For some, death has become routine.

"Every day you go home and have 1, 2, or 3 people that have died on your shift," Smith said. "Now we’re at a point where families are getting upset because they think we're not doing a good enough job and that’s heart-wrenching for us because everybody is working so hard."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Arizona has the second-highest COVID-19 death rate in the country.

On top of the mental toll, workers are getting sick from omicron, too, adding to the burnout.

"While we are having a high transmission rate, our staff who have been vaccinated are also exposed to the virus. Our urgent care closures are a direct result of staff and the number of staff who are unable to work," Bessel explained.

Currently, she says 87% of ICU patients at Banner Health are partially vaccinated, or not vaccinated at all.

"A year ago it seemed like we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. We were doing something really good," Smith said. "Now it seems like the same thing over and over again – and we’re not seeing the positive outcome."

Omicron is now expected to peak early to mid-February.



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