Lessons to learn from first and second wave of COVID-19 in the USA for health care providers

Updated: Feb 27

Over the past two years, the pandemic has completely rocked the healthcare industry. Facilities have had to keep up with two waves of COVID-19, multiple strains and hospitalizations before and after vaccines. Thanks to surging cases exacerbating a stressful work environment, the nursing industry is also experiencing unprecedented turnover. Despite these challenging times, the public still needs their healthcare heroes. Facilities have no choice but to rise to the occasion, and learn from the last two waves of COVID.

Omicron symptoms resemble a mild cold

There is still some variance in omicron cases, but a few recurring symptoms have been identified. Runny nose, headaches, fatigue, and sneezing are currently among the top Omicron symptoms. Meanwhile, loss of smell/taste has become much less common. A study in the UK found that only 13% percent of Omicron cases exhibited such symptoms. Fever and cough are also considerably less common. For the most part, Omicron symptoms resemble a mild-to-severe cold. Though not as potent as other strains, it still poses a threat to the immunocompromised. As such, healthcare providers should remain vigilant.

Delta variant hospitalization has the highest risk

Both Delta and Omicron were found to be considerably more infectious than the original strain of COVID. KKF reported that Delta spread 50% faster than the original SARS-CoV-2. Meanwhile, Omicron is 2.7 to 3.7 times more infectious than Delta, among the vaccinated individuals. Despite this, the risk of delta variant hospitalization is triple that of Omicron. In addition, the possibility of requiring emergency care for Delta was double the risk for Omicron. Though the latter spreads faster, the former is the more pressing threat to healthcare providers.

Hospitalization after vaccine is possible, but not likely

While the vaccines have successfully prevented infections and complications, it is not 100% effective. There are still “vaccine breakthrough infections”, where fully vaccinated individuals still manage to catch COVID-19. In particular, omicron’s numerous mutations have allowed it to infect vaccinated individuals at a higher rate than any other strain. As previously mentioned, however, symptoms are less severe and hospitalization after vaccination is much less likely. In a brief from Health System Tracker, only 15% of COVID-19 hospitalizations between June and December involved fully-vaccinated patients.

A different sort of herd immunity is possible

Normal herd immunity may not be possible with COVID-19, the same way that it is for the measles. As mentioned earlier, vaccine protection is important but not 100% effective. Some members of the population are also hesitant to take the vaccine, for political reasons. As a result, it is likely that most of the population will eventually be exposed to a COVID-19 variant. Though total herd immunity is impossible, we can still reach a point where the virus exists in a less harmful form. COVID-19 will still be a major health concern, but with sufficient vaccination levels, it will be far more manageable to deal with.

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