People with Omicron are 'getting really sick in a different way'

·4-min read

A doctor has warned that while fewer hospital patients infected with Covid-19 are "gasping for air" compared to the start of the pandemic, the Omicron variant is still making people sick in a "different way".

Associate Professor in Emergency Medicine at the Columbia University Medical Center, Dr Craig Spencer, Tweeted about the differences he noticed while working in a New York City ER earlier this week.

He said he saw a "stunning amount of Covid" during his "long day" at a makeshift ICU ward during the first Covid wave.

"Back in March 2020, we were flooded with so many sick and short of breath patients, it seemed like there was nothing we could do," Dr Spencer wrote on Twitter.

A makeshift ICU ward in NYC. Source: EPA
A doctor has opened up about what those on the front line are seeing compared to the beginning of the pandemic. Source: EPA

"I almost never feel like that anymore. We’ve learned so much. We have treatments. High-flow oxygen. That nightmare is over. But this is scary too…"

In March 2020, New York City was completely overrun with Covid-19 — hospitals were overflowing with patients and corpses, refrigerated trailers were used a temporary morgues and tents in Central Park served as Covid wards.

Dr Spencer said during the first wave, Covid was the only thing doctors saw in emergency rooms.

"Now record-number Covid cases are hitting at a time when our ERs are already seeing extremely high numbers of non-Covid patients too," he said this week.

"Thankfully the Covid patients aren’t as sick. BUT there’s SO many of them."

He said this year it seems like everyone has Covid.

The doctor said "thankfully" none of the patients needed a ventilator and only few needed oxygen, however, "still so many needed hospitalisation".

"But for most, Covid seemed to topple a delicate balance of an underlying illness. It’s making people really sick in a different way," he Tweeted.

"Diabetics in whom Covid precipitated diabetic ketoacidosis, a serious and life-threatening condition. Older folks sick with Covid just too weak to get out of bed. Can’t walk. So can’t leave the hospital."

A front line worker in a hospital.
A doctor working in New York City explained how Covid is different this time round, compared to 2020. Source: AP

Dr Spencer said he also noticed that this year Covid patients are often placed in beds next to patients "who have done everything to avoid the virus, and for whom an infection might have a dramatic toll".

"The cancer patient on chemotherapy. Those immunocompromised or severely sick with something else."

Covid-19: Hospital rates soar in New York City

When Dr Spencer tweeted, there were roughly 5,000 people in hospital with Covid in New York City, according to data from January 3.

Now, there are more than 6,000 people in hospital.

"Overall it seems Omicron causes milder disease. We aren’t seeing as many patients gasping for air," Dr Spencer said.

"But there’s just SO much of it and it’s impacting patients in different ways. So even if just a tiny portion of cases need to stay in the hospital, it can turn into a huge influx."

Dr Spencer said getting vaccinated is the best way to stay out of hospital.

"Even with Omicron the unvaccinated still make up a disproportionate share of the sickest Covid patients. And those needing treatment in the ICU are disproportionately the unvaccinated," he said.

There's a growing number of children in the US being admitted to hospital with Covid-19. Source: AP
There's a growing number of children in the US being admitted to hospital with Covid-19. Source: AP

He said he felt for his colleagues who had died from Covid, and those who are exhausted fighting on the front lines, adding that the next few weeks will be tough and many healthcare workers will get sick.

"If you do need to go to the ER, try to understand we are doing our best," he said.

"If you haven’t been vaccinated or boosted yet, now is really the time. It makes a difference. I know you’re tired of this. We are too. But we’ll really need everyone’s help to get through it, again."

With the Associated Press

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