LOUISVILLE, Ky. — There is good news - and bad news - about what doctors are learning about the omicron variant. While omicron appears to cause less severe symptoms in most people, especially those who have been vaccinated, medical officials said they're concerned about how infectious this variant is.
Dr. Jason Smith, the chief medical officer for UofL Health, said on Friday that local hospitals are seeing the same number of patients they saw during the last peak, in September and October - and he expects those numbers to keep rising.
"My guess is, by next week, we'll surpass that," he said.
While patient numbers are high, and growing, Dr. Smith said those patients don't appear to be getting as sick. In terms of severity, he said the omicron variant was likely comparable to the flu, with more nose and throat issues as opposed to respiratory failure, which was often a symptom of previous COVID variants.
However, he stressed that the variant is still a cause for concern due to its infection rate. Even though only a small percentage of the population is being hospitalized due to COVID-19, the high number of people who are being exposed to the virus is adding stress to local hospitals.
"If I had 25-plus percent of the population of Louisville come down with the flu, that would overwhelm the hospital systems as well," Dr. Smith said.
He urged everyone to keep doing their best to slow the spread, by wearing masks and limiting time in public.
"We are eventually going to have to learn to live with this because it's not going to go away," he said.
Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel also provided an update on the omicron variant in Indiana Saturday. In a lengthy Facebook post, he said for the average person, there appears to be a 50% less chance of hospitalization with the variant.
"You may feel like a steaming dog turd for a few days, but that tends to be as far as it goes," Yazel said.
However, he said this information doesn't mean people can go about their business as normal, especially since the variant is so infectious. He encouraged anyone who is at high risk of developing severe symptoms and hasn't been vaccinated against COVID-19 to get their shots as soon as possible.
And for those who won't get the vaccine, he said precautions should still be taken.
"If you are consistently in public, you will get Omicron," he said. "It's that simple. And you may get very ill. While we are seeing more breakthrough cases, hospitalizations are still 90-95% on average unvaccinated. Not an opinion, a fact."
Similarly to Smith, Yazel said hospitals in southern Indiana are struggling to deal with the variant. Hospitals were already at low capacity during the delta, and omicron is getting more people sick.
"In other words- hospitals are hurting and are going to really have a rough few weeks," Yazel said.
Anyone dealing with a medical emergency will be able to receive treatment, but Yazel said anyone coming to the hospital for routine symptoms or just to get tested for COVID should stay home.
"You will wait. And wait some more. And if you didn't have COVID, you will after sitting out there," he said.
Additionally, Yazel urged everyone to make their health their top priority in 2022.