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COVID-19 hospitalizations could be about to 'plateau,' officials say

A Lawrence + Memorial Hospital official said Monday the number of COVID-19 cases the hospital is treating could start to decline in a matter of days.

“We may be coming to a plateau,” said Dr. Kevin Torres, L+M’s associate chief medical officer. “We’ll have to watch the next few days.”

Torres reported that L+M was treating 60 COVID-19 patients at the end of the day, having discharged several since the day began. Fueled largely by cases involving the omicron variant, the hospital’s COVID-19 patient count peaked near 70 last week and has been in the 60s during much of the recent resurgence of the disease, Torres said.

Westerly Hospital, which was treating 16 COVID-19 patients Monday, has had nearly 20 on some days. The recent numbers at both L+M and Westerly are the highest they’ve been since the coronavirus pandemic broke out in March 2020.

Torres’ hopeful take was similar to that voiced by a Hartford HealthCare expert, Dr. Ulysses Wu, who doubled down Monday on his earlier prediction that the ongoing COVID-19 surge likely would peak around the middle of the month.

“We’re patiently awaiting the peak of the curve,” said Wu, Hartford HealthCare’s chief of infectious disease, who noted during a virtual news briefing that the rate of the increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations has slowed. He stood by his prediction, which he made “way back in September.”

Dr. Ajay Kumar, Hartford HealthCare’s chief clinical officer, reported that as of Monday, the health system had a pandemic-high 501 COVID-19 patients, including 46 at Backus Hospital in Norwich and 15 at Windham Hospital. Across the system, 65 COVID-19 patients were being treated in intensive care units. Fifty of them were on ventilators.

Kumar said 30% of the COVID-19 patients had come to the hospital for treatment of other conditions and had tested positive for the coronavirus disease following admission.

In general, current COVID-19 patients are less ill than those treated for the disease in the early days of the pandemic. During the first surge, when Hartford HealthCare had 425 patients as of April 22, 2020, 128 of them were in intensive care, Kumar noted, twice as many as is currently the case.

Statistical trends continue to support earlier findings that suggested the omicron variant, while more transmissible than previous strains, including the still-prevalent delta variant, does not cause as much severe illness.

“Hospitalizations are not what we’d expect them to be with a 25% positivity rate,” said Wu, referring to the statewide rate of positive COVID-19 test results. Before omicron, that rate of prevalence would have been expected to result in a greater number of hospitalizations.

Wu said analyses done at state laboratories indicated that as of the end of last week, the omicron variant accounted for about 55% of Hartford HealthCare's COVID-19 cases, with delta the other 45%. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has put the U.S. prevalence of the omicron variant at a much higher percentage “but our data tells us otherwise,” Wu said.

Torres, the L+M official, said the overwhelming percentage of COVID-19 cases L+M is treating are the omicron variant.

“We sent out 10 tests and nine came back omicron,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of our cases are omicron. It’s really overtaken delta.”

The upside of that, Torres said, is that relatively few COVID-19 patients at L+M have required treatment in the intensive care unit. Many people infected with the omicron variant are able to nurse cold-like symptoms at home, he said.

Only one of several monoclonal antibody treatments is effective against the omicron variant, and that treatment is in short supply, Torres said.

Officials reported Monday their hospitals are exceptionally busy, given the surge in COVID-19 cases and the high demand for other services. Hartford HealthCare has not opted to defer elective surgeries but evaluates every day whether it might need to, Kumar said.

He also said more than half of Hartford HealthCare’s workforce has complied with a Connecticut Hospital Association mandate that hospital and health system employees and clinical staff receive a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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