Health systems across the nation, including Glacial Ridge in Glenwood, continue to strain and balance the everyday health needs in addition to caring for those with COVID. While Delta has been the predominant COVID variant in our community and state, Omicron is another concerning threat for several reasons.
There’s a lot about Omicron that’s still unknown. But, as the CDC reports, medical experts worldwide seek to identify how easily it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, and how well the current vaccines and medications work against it.
Continued Hospitalization Surge
It is essential to remember that the additional number of COVID patients in the health care system significantly impacts all types of health care. Health systems were not designed for this high need for care over a sustained period of time. The Delta variant has stretched the hospitals to the max – Omicron may further exceed health care capacity.
No matter how mild the symptoms are with Omicron and the hospitalization rate appears to be less in individuals, hospitals could still be overwhelmed due to a more significant percentage of the population being infected. If the number of people with the virus doubles or triples, there will still be more hospitalized ill patients than the Delta variant has caused.
Kirk Stensrud, CEO at GRHS, reiterates, “Staff is concerned about providing care to everyone who needs it, and the additional prolonged stress of that is wearing. However, everyone is doing whatever they can to meet the need for the additional care our patients need. The Delta variant in our community is mostly infecting people who have not been vaccinated or have not received their booster. Another strain – Omicron – is on everyone’s minds as we watch what is happening around the world.”
For those needing urgent or same-day care, or care for chronic conditions, there are many protocols in place at Glacial Ridge to keep community members and healthcare staff safe.
Lynn Flesner, Director of Nursing at Glacial Ridge Hospital, adds, “Hospitals and ERs in the state, including Glacial Ridge Hospital, are usually at or beyond capacity due to the high acuity of patients needing care for all medical conditions plus ill COVID patients. There is just nowhere to send patients needing a higher level of care, including ICU care, strokes, and heart attacks. Our medical team has done a tremendous job utilizing all available resources previously in place, including tele-ICU, tele-emergency, and tele-respiratory therapy to connect with specialists.”
GRHS Staff Plan Crisis Care if Omicron Overwhelms the Health System More Than Delta Is
If necessary, Glacial Ridge is prepared to implement alternate staffing/care delivery plans and may need to delay preventative care appointments, screenings, and procedures. Contingency plans to care for additional hospital patients are ready to go if needed. Omicron appears to spread rapidly and has the probability of infecting even more people than the predominant Delta variant. Secondary infections from COVID (including pneumonia and blood clots are concerning.
Early findings of Omicron worldwide show that prior COVID infection, which generally produces some natural immunity for a time, does not seem to protect people from Omicron. Epidemiologists and virologists continue to study this concern. The Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines are currently effective against Omicron.
As of December 20, 2021, the west-central region in Minnesota has exceeded the 20% threshold of Omicron variant prevalence. This changes the COVID situation drastically in Minnesota, including who gets the most effective monoclonal treatment for Omicron.
Testing at Glacial Ridge
“With Omicron’s seemingly high transmissibility, the number of tests performed could double or triple current volumes being seen with the Delta variant, and that’s not something we will be able to provide for very long,” said Kathy Christianson, Lab Manager at Glacial Ridge. “Lab testing supplies allocated to hospitals and clinics are limited. The staff has already stepped up to do all they can; now we need help from the public,” she added. Current COVID testing is by appointment only.
Scientists are working to determine how well existing treatments for COVID-19, such as monoclonals or outpatients, work. Ahead of Omicron’s prevalence, the CDC stated that based on the changed genetic make-up of Omicron, some treatments are likely to remain effective while others may be less effective.
The two monoclonal antibody treatment combinations widely used for the original COVID virus and the Delta variant, bamlanivimab/etesevimab or casirivimab/imdevimab, have not been as effective at slowing the disease progression of the Omicron variant. The third monoclonal treatment – sotrovimab – is the only one with a significant effect on both Omicron and Delta variants. As of December 21, 2021, the state prioritization system changed again to begin using sotrovimab for those with the highest risk score using the statewide system. All other patients with lesser scores are still eligible to get the two monoclonals that are effective against the Delta variant. MDH and hospitals continue to work together to care for patients as best as they can in these circumstances.
MDH warns hospitals to anticipate a significant scarcity of sotrovimab in the coming weeks relative to demand and the Omicron surge.
How Can You Help Now?
Home Oxygen Concentrator Donations
Oxygen and supplies – canisters, concentrators, tubing, and masks – are sometimes difficult to purchase due to the uncertain supply chain. Therefore, Glacial Ridge is proactively asking the community for help. If you have a home oxygen concentrator (new within the past ten years) and it’s no longer needed, or in storage, Glacial Ridge Hospital is accepting donations. Agility, a medical equipment company, will inspect them to certify they are in working order, sanitized, and fit for patient use in case they are needed. Donations of home oxygen concentrators can be dropped off with receptionists at the hospital or clinics during business hours. Glacial Ridge Health System is doing well with PPE supplies. The staff has appropriately been using and conserving existing PPE resources.
PLEASE – get vaccinated and get your necessary booster!
The world is in a race against the variants. To stop the COVID-19 virus, medical professionals can’t stress enough how critically important it is for everyone to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible – and a booster shot when they are due. Call Glenwood Medical Center’s COVID Vaccination Line at 320.331.2121 to request an appointment for your FIRST DOSE – OR BOOSTER SHOT if you haven’t gotten yours.
“By far, the majority of severely ill COVID patients coming to the emergency room having trouble breathing, and those we are caring for in our hospital are unvaccinated or have not received their booster shot yet,” said Dr. Thomas Haus, a physician at Glacial Ridge. He adds, “In recent months, we’ve seen that booster shots are essential for continued protection. Please get yours as soon as possible.” Additionally, “We’re also admitting patients to the hospital who are in their 30s through 60s now – that wasn’t the case before Delta, and they are very sick. Omicron is even more concerning,” shared Dr. Haus.
Until more people are vaccinated (ages 5+) and get their booster (16+), public health officials continue to advise extra precautions. Masks offer protection against all variants. CDC continues to recommend wearing a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission, regardless of vaccination status. If you feel sick, self-isolate until you can be tested for COVID-19 and get your results.
RELATED: Proactive Planning is Required Regarding Potential Ambulance Staffing Issue During COVID-19 Surge
* Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, variants, and scientific understanding, guidelines and recommendations may have changed since the original news release and publication date.