SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — San Diego hospital leaders are seeing encouraging signs that the Omicron-driven surge is on the decline.
The Scripps Health weekly computer model tracking the pandemic shows the height of infections hit locally about a week ago.
"The news from at least a hospitalization standpoint is improving, but we're still seeing somewhere between a 16%, and in Sharp's case, 25% positivity rate, that is still very, very high, that means 1 in 4 people are still getting infected potentially," said Chris Van Gorder, President and CEO of Scripps Health.
San Diego County recorded roughly 11,000 new coronavirus cases over the weekend, that's approximately half as many as the prior week.
Van Gorder said the number of healthcare employees getting sick is also dropping.
"At the height of the infection rates, about 15% of our staff was out, sick, about 700, that's down to 5% now," said Van Gorder, adding the average absentee rate is roughly 1%.
Van Gorder expects a slow decline of cases through February with patient volumes stabilizing by mid-March, but the hospitals will remain busy.
"As the COVID patients leave the hospital, all the people who have been delaying care are going to start getting readmitted, so from a hospital census standpoint, we are going to stay very busy through February, March, and maybe beyond," said Van Gorder.
Not only did omicron take a physical toll on employees, last month Van Gorder put out a public plea asking patients to simply be kind to the staff.
"Interestingly, after you put out the word about being kind, we actually had people coming in the hospital and thanking the staff members for their care and compassion, so they saw it, and that went a long way,
just putting the word out gave our staff members and physicians some hope that people were going to become more aware of the situation they are facing," said Van Gorder.
The healthcare veteran believes San Diego is reaching the endemic phase of the virus.
"I'm hopeful that we are going to get to some form of normalcy in 2022, but I think we're still going to have to push the vaccines and boosters. Our own hospitalizations and death rates prove they are effective, and that's the best protection against another variant," said Van Gorder.
According to San Diego County, nearly 80% of eligible San Diegans are fully vaccinated, but only half received a booster shot.
"If you got your vaccination plus booster, you have about a three to five percent chance of getting hospitalized. If you just got vaccination without booster, that kind of goes up to around 15 to 20 percent chance of getting hospitalized. The majority of patients that are in the hospital didn't get vaccinated at all, and the majority of the patients who are dying from Omicron, and we still have deaths every single day, most of those by far have been unvaccinated," said Van Gorder.