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Hospitals feel impact of latest COVID surge, fueled by omicron variant

Though symptoms appear mild for vaccinated staff, a Virginia doctor said healthcare workers who catch COVID call out of work from an already short staff.

VIRGINIA, USA — Though medical professionals say the latest COVID-19 variant, omicron, is showing milder symptoms for vaccinated people – health care workers are stretched thin.

“The staffing situation is really just terrible and it’s at a really bad time," said Dr. Taison Bell, critical care and infectious disease physician at UVA Health. 

Right now, Bell says health care workers are feeling the added weight of the pandemic. 

“We’re already bad but I think it is worse now with staff leaving and with the omicron variant causing more infections on people that are fully vaccinated," said Bell. 

The Virginia Department of Health reported 4,472 new cases Monday, as people wrap up the holiday weekend. This comes after Christmas Eve when the Commonwealth posted its second-highest case count since the pandemic began. 

It's sobering evidence of an ever-evolving virus. 

“I mean it's tough," said Bell. "I'm not going to try and make light of it, but we are mission-driven and try to walk in our purpose and that’s what sustains you." 

Bell says the surge comes at a bad time for hospitals. More workers are catching COVID-19, and even though symptoms appear to be mild for fully vaccinated staff, they're calling out of work. That strains an already short-handed field.

"It's really no cause to spike the football, because what we are seeing are full hospitals, burned-out staff and patients that are coming in and dying needlessly," said Bell. "The fact that it does tend to have milder disease does not give me any comfort just because the fact that it spreads to more people." 

To combat staff shortages, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends a shorter isolation time for health care workers who test positive for COVID-19. They can return to work after seven days if they are asymptomatic and return a negative test. 

Through all of this, Bell says the vaccine is working, and the more people who get it, the easier it will be on his team. 

“Your main goal is to meet someone like me on TV and not in real life, and the difference really is vaccination. I’m not meeting a lot of fully vaccinated people in the ICU. That's a simple fact," he said. 

There are good stories, too, including stories of lives being saved and people doing what they can to help others stay healthy. 

Those stories, Bell says, keeps him and other health care workers going. 

“If you know someone in the healthcare field, let them know that you got the vaccine, that you are wearing protection and wearing masks indoors," he said. "These are the things that make us feel good about the things we do, because when we are show up to work  to take care of someone who is not following that guidance, we need something to keep us going.”