As more cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 are identified across the state, it’s only a matter of time before it breaches East Texas.
That shouldn’t be a news flash to anyone paying attention to the latest mutation of the virus.
As of Thursday, the Texas Department of State Health Service reported 116 confirmed coronavirus cases related to Omicron, all identified this month.
What should East Texans expect when Omicron eventually becomes the dominant strain of coronavirus, overtaking the Delta variant?
Omicron appears to be milder than Delta but spreads faster and more often to vaccinated people, medical experts have reported.
East Texans should respond to this looming threat by following the same established steps previously emphasized by health care professionals.
Get a vaccine (or a booster), practice good hygiene and wear a face covering.
As Smith County Health Authority Dr. Paul McGaha told us previously, the coronavirus is constantly changing, and its vaccine could eventually become like a flu shot — needed once a year.
We’re playing the long game with COVID-19, and calm and perseverance are required. Along with a healthy dose of grit.
And let’s not forget that the Delta variant — the source of a summer surge that packed area hospitals — isn’t gone.
East Texans must take smart, practical steps to save lives, protect our health care facilities from another overload and prevent our health care workers from a repeat of their darkest days.
Funding to hospitals
Gregg County commissioners’ recent approval of $1 million to Christus Good Shepherd in Longview was a needed gift to help keep skilled health care workers in our community.
The money, from federal coronavirus relief funding, will help cover some of the costs of nurse retention incentives.
Todd Hancock, CEO of Christus Good Shepherd Health System, told commissioners that the nurse incentives were key to retaining staff members during the summer COVID-19 surge.
That’s because many nurses left for significantly higher pay in areas hit even harder than Longview.
It’s what Hancock called a “mass exodus.”
“Imagine a scenario where you have over 60% of your normal hospital volume that is now COVID-19, so your hospital is more than doubled in its size of its census, but you have all of your nurses that are leaving the community, going to other states, so it created a huge issue for us,” he told commissioners.
Hancock said as many as 500 Good Shepherd nurses received stipends and bonuses to keep them in our community.
But those incentives put a financial strain on Christus, and we support commissioners’ decision to award the money to the hospital. (Longview Regional Medical Center also is set to receive $1 million, also for its nurse incentive program, but is awaiting final approval.)
We are hopeful Omicron doesn’t produce a repeat of the summer, but, if so, we’re confident in the medical services provided by Good Shepherd and Longview Regional.
We also have confidence that, because of these local incentive funds and the assistance provided by Gregg County, our hospitals will have the necessary staffing to provide high-quality care.