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Texas could double its COVID-19 hospitalization record, models say

Even as hospitalizations skyrocket, research indicates Omicron infections are less likely than Delta to produce severe infections.

SAN ANTONIO — Texas could double its record for COVID-19 hospitalizations in early February, according to some short-term forecasts from the University of Texas's COVID-19 modelling consortium. 

The mock-up, last updated Jan. 10, uses a spaghetti model similar to a hurricane forecast. The median scenario, halfway between the best and worst-case outcomes, places 29,622 Texans in the hospital on Feb. 8. 

Texas set its hospitalization record on Jan. 12, 2021, when 14,218 patients had COVID-19. 

Researchers at the consortium accurately predicted the United States would surpass its COVID-19 hospitalization record in a report released last week

"It seems we are getting near to the peak of cases, then we might need another week or two to reach the peak of hospital admissions," Anass Bouchnita, one of the consortium's top researchers, said. 

People with COVID-19 are already seeking medical attention in Bexar County hospitals at an unprecedented rate. 

On Jan. 12, 958 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in San Antonio, up from 224 patients on Dec. 22. In other words, hospitalizations increased by 734 people in 21 days. 

It took 65 days for hospital censuses to jump by the same degree during Texas's worst wave. On Dec. 18, 2020, 958 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in San Antonio, up from 223 patients on Oct. 14, 2020. 

Any new strain on the health care system will come as hospital staffs deplete. 

"We seem to be feeling it more, as far as our own staff getting sick and being out," University Health emergency services director Rocio Garcia told KENS 5 Monday. "Things are busy and a little bit rough up here right now."  

Omicron has so far sent a smaller portion of infected people to the hospital than delta did, but the total number of hospitalizations is higher because so many people have the virus. 

"The sheer number of infections would cause... hospitalizations to rise sharply," Bouchnita explained. 

"It's like three-times more cases," he continued, making reference to some 7-day rolling averages. "With three-times more cases - even if there is a small portion of these people going to hospitals - it might be more devastating to the health care system than the delta waves we've seen before." 

But there is some reason for optimism in the modelling consortium's data. 

Each of eight forecast scenarios accurately predicted the United States would break its hospitalization record. Only two, worst-case scenarios suggest the nation will break its record for Coronavirus-related deaths. 

The model supports research, freshly-endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control, that patients with omicron are 91 percent less likely to die from COVID-19 than patients with delta were. 

"The duration of hospital stays was approximately 70 percent shorter, with the median of stays being 1.5 days for Omicron compared to about 5 days for Delta," CDC director Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing Wednesday. "Looking at all hospital admissions for Omicron, 90 percent of patients were expected to be discharged from the hospital in three days or less."

Local doctors have also noted that some patients with COVID-19 sought medical attention for other ailments. They are included in Metro Health's hospitalization counts, even though they're not hospitalized for COVID-19 treatment. 

"We should really not underestimate omicron," Bouchnita cautioned. "Even if it's turned out to be a mild variant, it has the ability to overwhelm health care capacity." 

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