Why Omicron could still overwhelm hospitals
It’s not hard to see how a 1,700% increase in cases from the Delta could flood hospitals and intensive care units. We are already halfway there.
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2021-12-30T10: 30: 00 + 11: 00
At the height of the delta wave in September, about one percent, or 1,500, of the 150,000 daily tests in New South Wales were coming back positive.
COVID hospital admissions reached 1,200, and 20% of those patients were in intensive care. Ten percent, or 120, were on ventilators.
The positivity rate of the Omicron variant is much higher than delta at around 6.5%. NSW reported 11,201 new cases on Wednesday and 157,000 tests.
But, so far at least, the much higher number of cases has led to a relatively low number of 625 hospital admissions, and only 10% of those patients are in intensive care and 3.7% on ventilators.
The rate of hospitalization per case could increase as people become sicker in the coming weeks.
The problem for the health system is the burden of omicron infections.
Hospital admissions are halfway to Delta Peak, ICU numbers are one-fourth of the way, and ventilations one-fifth of the way.
As the omicron continues to spread, hospitals could be forced to deal with similar patient numbers to those they faced in the Delta outbreak, if not more.
How many more is an open question.
Hunter New England Health reported on Wednesday that 31 COVID patients were being treated in district hospitals, up from 11 a week ago, and three were in intensive care.
It is unclear to what extent Wednesday’s surprising number of cases, nearly double the state’s previous record, reflects erratic testing and treatment over the Christmas long weekend, but the modeling cited by the government two weeks ago suggested that NSW would have 25,000 cases per day by the end of January.
The author of the forecast, University of NSW associate professor James Wood, said at the time that his prediction of a four-fold increase in the number of cases each week was “very preliminary.”
What seemed to some to be an astronomical number may turn out to be conservative.
It is important to remember that the daily number of cases reflects only confirmed infections.
Prominent Newcastle University researcher and physician Professor Nick Talley told the Newcastle Herald Tuesday that the high test positivity rate of 6.5% indicated that a large number of infections remained undetected, perhaps up to five times the number reported.
This is probably when contact tracing and testing begins to crumble, as has happened in New South Wales over the past two weeks.
NSW Director of Health Dr Kerry Chant said on Wednesday that “there are probably more illnesses in the community than the numbers reflect”.
It is too early in the Omicron wave to draw any concrete conclusions from hospital figures.
But, even at this early stage, it’s not hard to see how a 170% increase in the number of cases reported daily from Delta could flood hospitals and intensive care units.
The deaths of two women at a nursing home in Warabrook over Christmas show that COVID-19 still poses a threat to health, especially for the elderly.
The nursing home said on Wednesday it found out 14 days ago that several staff members had come in contact with a person who tested positive.
Since then, 20 staff members and 15 patients have tested positive.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard could have been right when he said “we’re all going to have Omicron”.
Hopefully, for the sake of the hospital system and health outcomes, we don’t all get it at the same time.