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WKSU, our public radio partners in Ohio and across the region and NPR are all continuing to work on stories on the latest developments with the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can keep you informed.

The omicron variant is spreading fast and makes up about half of Cleveland Clinic's positive tests

Lisa Ryan
Ideastream Public Media
Though this hospital bed in Cleveland Clinic's intensive care unit appears empty, the room is already reserved for a patient being transferred in from another location in need of life-saving care, officials said. The Clinic and other Northeast Ohio hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients as the omicron variant is now accounting for half of new cases, the Clinic said in a statement Friday.

The omicron variant, first confirmed in a Cleveland Clinic lab earlier this week, is now accounting for about half of new COVID-19 cases at Cleveland Clinic.

The hospital system is expecting to see its highest percentage of positive COVID-19 tests since the pandemic began, officials said in a news release on Friday.

In a statement, officials said one-third of tests conducted at the hospital system are coming back positive, partially due to the rapid spread of the omicron variant. More specifically, the Clinic is testing about 3,000 people per day and 1,000 of those tests are positive, according to officials.

“We estimate half of those positive samples are due to omicron,” Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Halle Bishop said in a statement.

The omicron variant was first confirmed in Cleveland Clinic labs earlier this week, but the daily count of laboratory-confirmed cases has now doubled, officials added. The variant was first detected in South Africa and appears to spread rapidly – possibly quicker than the highly contagious delta variant, said Dr. Daniel Rhoads, section head of microbiology at the Clinic.

“That’s the concern, because omicron has shown it can compete with delta in more and more countries around the world,” he said.

More research is needed to determine if the variant causes more severe disease, he added. Early studies indicate the current COVID-19 vaccines provide some protection against omicron, but booster shots are thought to provide the best defense, Rhoads said.

“They say two doses of the mRNA vaccine give about 30 percent protection at preventing symptomatic infection, and then three doses, which is where a lot of us are now with the boosters, gives about 75 percent protection,” he said.

Hospitals across Northeast Ohio are overwhelmed due to the continued influx of COVID-19 patients, compounded by major staffing shortages. Gov. Mike DeWine announced Friday the Ohio National Guard will be deployed to help offset this staffing burden.

Cleveland Clinic also announced Friday it is extending its postponement of elective procedures through the end of 2021 to deal with the increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“We know [omicron] is here, and currently the majority of our hospitalizations are unvaccinated – 80 percent,” Bishop of the Clinic said. “The vast majority of vaccinated patients hospitalized because of COVID have underlying health issues. As we go through this wave we'll learn more.”

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