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Current COVID-19 variant less deadly, but health officials warn against complacency

Michigan Radio
COVID-19 vaccination in progress

Hospitals are seeing fewer seriously ill patients with COVID-19 — and the low level of hospitalizations has been persistent. For months, they've remained below 25% of the peak reached last winter.

That's happening for a number of reasons, according to Dr. Joshua Kooistra, senior vice president and chief medical officer at Spectrum Health.

He said a big reason is the variant of COVID-19 that is circulating right now.

"Omicron is less virulent, meaning less likely to cause hospitalization, severe illness, or death than the Delta variant," said Kooistra.

There are also medications people can take in the first few days of becoming ill with COVID 19, which can reduce the severity of the symptoms. And hospitals are also able to offer monochromal antibody treatment to very ill patients.

But Kooistra urged people not to become complacent. He said people should get their bivalent booster shot as soon as possible, as well as a flu shot.

He says demand for the original booster shots and the new bivalent shot has been modest.

"I think that we probably have some degree of vaccine fatigue and just overall COVID fatigue in our country, so that does give me some degree of concern," he said.

Kooistra said Spectrum Health has about 100 people hospitalized with COVID-19 across its 14 hospitals, but 40% of those were hospitalized for another reason.

Another worry that began early in the pandemic and continues, he said, is staff shortages. The hospital network, like many others in Michigan and across the nation, is struggling to attract and retain enough nurses and other staff to treat and care for patients.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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