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San Antonians urged to step up, wear masks to fight dangerous omicron outbreak


The region’s top elected officials and health officials on Friday issued an urgent appeal to San Antonians to receive booster shots, wear masks in public and take other precautions to prevent a surge of infections in the region. COVID-19 to overwhelm hospitals.

Hospitals face a double threat from the omicron variant of the coronavirus: more patients are admitted for treatment for COVID-19, and the virus is spreading among staff members.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff issued blunt advice regarding those who are not vaccinated: “I would say if you have a friend who is unvaccinated, try to convince them to do so – or stay away from. them. “

Executives from University Health, the county’s public hospital system, stood alongside Wolff, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Sheriff Javier Salazar in a press conference on Friday morning to get the message across that San Antonians need to be protect and protect their loved ones.

Wolff said the unvaccinated “have driven this pandemic” and are putting themselves “at risk”.

University health officials and local leaders offered some tips on how to safely celebrate the holidays this weekend.

Wear a mask, practice physical distancing, and wash your hands. These standard COVID measures are especially important during holiday celebrations like New Year’s Eve.

Even though CDC guidelines call for people to wear a mask during indoor rallies, Mayor Ron Nirenberg has also encouraged people to wear one at outdoor rallies.

Everyone who is sick should stay home tonight.

“If you are planning on getting together with people outside your household, reconsider it or consider using a self-test or getting tested,” Nirenberg said.

On ExpressNews.com: COVID-19 cases soar in San Antonio as omicron variant takes hold

Nirenberg pointed out that 8 out of 10 COVID-19 patients in hospitals in the region were not vaccinated.

Admissions of COVID-19 patients to area hospitals have increased by more than 75% over the past week, University Health chief medical officer Dr Bryan Alsip said.

“Indeed, once again we are facing stress on our health care system due to an increased number of infections, this time due to the omicron variant,” Alsip said. “These cases, while relatively mild clinically, exacerbate the staffing issues that hospitals face.”

About 411 mobile nurses will arrive in Bexar County from next week to bolster hospital staff, Wolff said.

Alsip urged people to help hospitals preserve their capacity by not going to the emergency room to take COVID-19 tests. Instead, people should call a primary care provider for instructions on how to get tested or use one of the city’s community testing centers.

Nirenberg said the city’s free test sites have appointments available. He encouraged people to visit them. Site information can be found at covid19.sanantonio.gov/Home.

Wolff said that even with these testing sites, more do-it-yourself COVID-19 test kits are needed. He said he had heard pharmacies were running out of take-out tests and had seen reports of people lining up for tests.

On ExpressNews.com: COVID cases, hospitalizations rise across Texas as omicron variant rages

Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for more medical staff to help fight the omicron outbreak and an increased allocation of monoclonal antibody treatments for Texas.

Texas State Department Health Services regional infusion centers in San Antonio, Austin, El Paso, Fort Worth, and The Woodlands are running out of sotrovimab, the only monoclonal antibody treatment that appears to be effective against the omicron variant. .

Abbott also requested federally funded testing sites in Bexar, Cameron, Dallas, Harris, Hidalgo and Tarrant counties.

The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District on Thursday reported 3,286 active cases of COVID-19 and 352 hospital patients with the virus. Of those hospitalized, 74 were in intensive care and 30 on ventilators. Hospitalizations are at their highest level since before Halloween.

Alsip said University Health has seen an increase in child hospitalizations, although not all cases are linked to COVID-19. He said many have been admitted with other conditions, including rhinovirus, a family of viruses that cause the common cold, and enterovirus, which can cause serious breathing problems in children.

Metro Health reported on Thursday that 20 pediatric patients were being treated for COVID-19, more than double the number a week earlier.

The number of inmates at Bexar County Jail with COVID-19 is also increasing.

On ExpressNews.com: Omicron is everywhere and seems smoother. Here’s why you still don’t want to get it.

Salazar said 38 inmates tested positive – at the end of November there was one. Twenty-five of these detainees tested positive upon arrival at the prison. He said 50 employees had also tested positive. At the end of November, only a handful of employees had laboratory-confirmed infections.

In addition to treating a growing number of patients with COVID-19, University Health is grappling with the spread of the virus among its staff.

Tommye Austin, the hospital system’s chief nurse, said nurses were working overtime to keep up with the wave. Community members can help, she said, by wearing masks, practicing social distancing and washing their hands.

“Make sure that when you are on the move you wear your mask, protect each other, be a good citizen and make sure it is not just you, but everyone”, Austin said.

Staff shortages are being felt across the region, said Eric Epley, executive director of the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council, which coordinates emergency care in 22 counties, including Bexar.

“All of our hospitals in the region are experiencing varying levels of staffing issues,” Epley said in a statement. “There are a number of reasons, but it is mainly due to the fact that nurses and other staff are absent due to COVID. “

The Baptist Medical Center said some staff have contracted COVID-19 but patient care has not been affected.

On ExpressNews.com: Why some pandemic lifestyle changes stuck with South Texans – and others not

“We remain able to provide safe, quality care to our patients and the community,” Baptist said in a statement. “With the increase in COVID cases and some sick staff, we continue to work hard to meet the demand for care. “

Cheri Love-Moceri, associate vice president of communications at Methodist Healthcare, said the system has seen “an increased number of employees testing positive for COVID.”

She added, “However, due to updated CDC guidelines last week, which reduced isolation protocols, employees were able to return to work faster and patient care was unaffected. “

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortened the recommended isolation period on Monday after a positive COVID test from 10 to five days. The shorter quarantine applies to people who are infected but have no symptoms or have a fever but whose other symptoms improve.

Wolff urged people to be given booster shots. The Food and Drug Administration has approved recalls for anyone over the age of 16 who received the first two injections of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines at least six months ago.

Bexar County has a relatively high vaccination rate. Two-thirds of residents – nearly 1.35 million people – received two injections of the vaccine. But Wolff said too few people are following to get recalls.

“When you get vaccinated, over time it becomes less effective,” he said. “So after a six month period, you have to get that booster. “

Since December 23, Texas has reported more than 10,000 new COVID-19 infections per day, the highest daily number since September. This is a dramatic change from the start of this month, when around 3,000 new cases were reported daily.

Nirenberg stressed the importance of getting vaccinated, wearing masks and staying home when sick.

“By practicing these proven health measures,” he said, “we can all start 2022 in a safer way.”

Editor Laura Garcia contributed to this report.

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