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California expects a record number of COVID hospitalizations next month as omicron spreads

Sacramento Bee logo Sacramento Bee 1/11/2022 Lara Korte, The Sacramento Bee

Jan. 10—California health officials expect to reach a record-high number of COVID-19 hospitalizations early next month, Gov. Gavin Newsom said, raising concerns about the strain on hospitals and health care workers.

The number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 reached a total of 11,048 in California as of Monday. That number has been steadily climbing since late November, when the highly-transmissible omicron variant first made an appearance in the U.S.

Newsom said hospitalizations are projected to increase to 23,000 COVID-19 patients by Feb. 2, surpassing the current record of 21,938 hospitalizations set during January 2021.

"It's manageable, but it's challenging," Newsom said.

By mid-January, the governor said the total number of people in California hospitals is expected to be greater than it was at the peak of last year's surge, meaning the total number of people hospitalized, including for both COVID-19 and non-COVID reasons, is likely to reach more than 53,000 people in a matter of days.

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Newsom's data suggests 4.5% of people infected with omicron end up hospitalized, he said, which is a smaller percentage than the delta variant. The average length of a hospital stay for people with omicron, about 3.6 days, is also significantly shorter than those experienced with other variants.

But the sheer number of people who are catching the omicron variant means it is likely to ratchet up the overall number of hospitalizations, Newsom said, which could put a "tremendous strain on our hospital system."

California has 2,250 contracted workers to supplement hospital staff, and hopes to add another 1,250 in the next three weeks to deal with the surge, Newsom said. Over the weekend, the state health department issued temporary guidance through Feb. 1 stating health care providers who test positive for COVID-19 can return to work immediately if they are asymptomatic.

Those providers should "preferably be assigned to work with COVID-19 positive patients," the guidance said, but that may not always be possible.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said last week that officials are also watching pediatric hospitalizations very closely.

Ghaly said California hospitals are admitting children with COVID-19 at an unprecedented rate, mirroring a nationwide trend. The Centers for Disease Control on Friday said the number of young children, age 4 and younger, admitted to the hospital who test positive for the virus rose to the highest levels since the beginning of the pandemic last week.

While children are being admitted at higher rates, the illness seems less severe than previous surges, Ghaly said. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters on Friday that children infected with the variant are still at much less risk of severe illness than adults.


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