Microscope image of coronavirus
An electron microscope image of the new Omicron strain of coronavirus. Courtesy of NIAID-RML

Modeling by Scripps Health predicts that the current surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations should wind down by early March, with a slow decrease in patient volume driven by the Omicron variant of the virus over the coming weeks, the health system said Tuesday.

However, officials said staffing demands at Scripps facilities will remain high as hospitals stay busy with cases unrelated to COVID and as other patients reschedule procedures that were deferred during the latest wave of virus cases.

“We are finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel for the Omicron surge, but this pandemic likely isn’t ending,” Scripps President and CEO Chris Van Gorder said. “COVID vaccination continues to play an important role in reducing the severity of surges and offsetting the potential effects of new coronavirus variants that might spread through the population in the future.

“That includes getting your booster shot as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is 90% effective at preventing hospitalizations according to the agency’s most recent research,” he added.

According to the health system, daily COVID volumes at Scripps’ five hospital campuses peaked two weeks ago with 356 admissions, including 62 patients in ICUs. That compared to a pre-holiday volume in mid-November of 78 patients, with 31 in ICUs.

According to Scripps, the accuracy level of the modeling, has been “extremely high,” running in the low- to mid-90% range during all three of the major COVID surges — the Alpha variant in the winter of 2020, the Delta variant in the summer of 2021 and the Omicron variant that arrived this winter.

“Computer modeling has become a standard and critical tool that we use on an ongoing basis to operate our hospitals and clinics,” said Nathaniel Brown, Scripps director of health data sciences. “Early on in the pandemic, this technology prompted us to shift from a staffing structure that focused on each individual location to one that considered staffing needs across our entire system.

“We also increased cooperation between Scripps hospitals for transferring patients when needed due to restricted resources,” Brown said. “And our modeling has helped hospital directors anticipate how their sites will be impacted over the coming two weeks.”

The number of COVID-positive patients in all San Diego County hospitals continued to drop on Tuesday, decreasing by 22 people to 1,158. Of those patients, 214 were in intensive care, up three from Monday.

The number of available ICU beds increased by two to 174 on Tuesday.

Some patients may have been hospitalized for other reasons and had their COVID status discovered by hospital-mandated tests.

The latest numbers come one day after San Diego County’s Health and Human Services Agency reported 2,049 new positive COVID-19 tests and 21 more deaths associated with the virus. That brought the county’s cumulative totals to 697,429 cases and 4,686 deaths.

There were 37,858 new tests reported Friday, and the seven-day average positivity rate was 25.2%, down from 26.6% the previous Tuesday. The county reports this figure on Tuesdays and Fridays.

A total of 1,021,730 (49.9%) of San Diego County residents who are fully vaccinated have received a booster shot, according to the HHSA. Boosters are currently available for everyone 12 years and older.

According to HHSA data, of the 996 hospitalizations reported between Dec. 14 and Jan. 12, a total of 91 San Diego County residents who were boosted ended up in a hospital.

The county has more than 400 vaccination sites including pharmacies, medical providers, clinics and county locations. Appointments can be made and sites can be found by calling 833-422-4255 or visiting the MyTurn or coronavirus-sd.com websites.

More than 2.85 million, or 90.8%, of San Diego County residents age 5 and older are at least partially vaccinated and more than 2.51 million, or 79.9%, are fully vaccinated.

–City News Service