DUBOIS – During a teleconference Wednesday, officials from Penn Highlands Healthcare provided information about the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and current infection rates in the area.
Dr. Russell Cameron, chief medical officer, said Omicron caused an early rise in infection rates prior to the holidays.
Currently there are 92 inpatients in PHH facilities including 21 in DuBois and nine in Clearfield. Numbers from December of 2020 are comparable to those of December of 2021.
Cameron said that those currently on ventilators or those dying have not been vaccinated.
Omicron is different from other variants, Cameron said. It is more transmissible, has a shorter incubation time and is less deadly.
The symptoms are milder, he said, and there is less damage to the lungs and patients are less likely to lose the sense of taste or smell.
The vaccinated are less symptomatic and the symptoms are less severe.
In regards to rising flu rates, Cameron said that the cases of influenza dropped substantially last year due to prevention measures for COVID-19, but this year there is a rise, especially of the H3N2 strain, and the current vaccination for influenza is less effective on this strain.
As a result, Cameron said that mitigation actions against COVID are also effective against the flu: masks, hand sanitizing, avoiding large gatherings and staying home if sick.
Mark Norman, chief operating officer, also said that PHH is suffering from staffing shortages, but employees are rising to the occasion and continuing to provide care for patients at all facilities.
Currently there is a good supply of vaccines for the community, but testing kits are affected by the supply chain issues and Norman asked everyone to be patient.
He also asks that if you experience symptoms, please call your doctor and avoid coming to the emergency room unless actually experiencing a life-threatening situation.
Norman said approximately 80 percent of PHH employees are vaccinated and 45-60 percent of the population, depending on the community.
Currently PHH is not enforcing the vaccination mandate as the United States Supreme Court reviews the mandate.