Oklahoma hospitals face surge of COVID-19 cases, medical community braces for more patients

Oklahoma hospitals are once again on the edge of being overwhelmed by a surge of COVID-19 cases, this time associated with the highly contagious Omicron variant.

The number of people in recent days seeking an emergency room or intensive care unit bed at any Oklahoma hospital has skyrocketed, and wait times to be seen, let alone to secure a bed, have soared.

Patti Davis, president of the Oklahoma Hospital Authority, said Tuesday in addition to a rapid increase in Omicron infections that is also impacting medical professionals, there have also been numerous retirements from people in the medical community burned out from the pandemic that is about to wrap up its second full year in the U.S.

“What people have to realize is the difference between an unoccupied bed, and an unstaffed bed,” Davis said. “Yes, some hospitals do have empty beds, but there are not enough people to staff them all.”

Davis said many people are going to the emergency room because of symptoms linked to COVID-19, the flu, or even both.

While Omicron has shown to have mild symptoms for the vaccinated, Dr. Aaron Wendelboe, an epidemiologist with the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City said Omicron can be just as complicated as any other COVID strain for anyone unvaccinated, especially if this is the first time they’ve been infected with COVID-19.

“An Omicron infection can be just as dangerous to an unvaccinated person as the other variants,” Wendelboe said. “It may even be worse because of how contagious Omicron is.”

FOX23 has received multiple viewer messages from people waiting in hospital lobbies for multiple hours waiting to be admitted to the emergency room, and some of those people had other non-COVID emergencies.

Davis said emergency rooms are seeing the usual load of people needing emergency care on top of people feeling ill from Omicron. With Omicron being the most contagious strain of the variants, more medical professionals themselves are getting sick and being sent home, she said. That means, a short staffed facility can do even less.

“A health care provider is not going to be allowed to care for the sick while they themselves are sick,” she said.

Recent data shows that more people are sick with COVID-19 now because of Omicron than they were during the original strain or with COVID Delta, but with there being a segment of the population vaccinated, many of the vaccinated are preferring to fight mild symptoms like cough, sneeze, sore throat, or a runny nose at home instead of also seeking medical help at a hospital.

St. Francis administrators said they are back to having some patients being treated in beds that are in the hallways in certain parts of their building, and the process of when someone will be seen is based solely on the level of their emergency.

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