Nursing preparing for winter omicron surge

Experts encourage community to get vaccinated to help prevent serious illness, hospitalization

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uc irvine school of nursing faculty preparing for omicron winter surge and urge public to get covid-19 vaccine or boosterThe omicron variant of the coronavirus is predicted to create another surge of positive cases and hospitalizations throughout Orange County this winter.

Susanne Phillips, clinical professor at the UCI Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing and associate dean of Clinical Affairs, says the UCI Health COVID-19 testing site is seeing an increase of positive cases.

“We are at the beginning of another surge that will impact the ability for nurses to provide high-quality care to those in our community. Nurses are tired and the last two years has taken a toll on our ranks.”

Phillips says although the region will experience another surge of cases seeking care, there is a difference: a better understanding of how to manage patients in their home setting, which in turn should alleviate some of the burden on hospitals.

“It is critical that we have healthcare professionals who are available to care for those that will experience a heart attack, a stroke, suffer traumatic injuries and become critically ill from conditions unrelated to COVID-19,” she says.

“That requires public health interventions to mitigate COVID-19 so your loved ones are provided the care they need during a critical time.”

Unvaccinated are more ill

Phillips notes that it is unvaccinated and partially vaccinated individuals who are in most need of hospital services. This underscores the need to get the vaccination or complete the series with a booster.

“If you haven’t been immunized or been given the booster, it’s important to do this so we have fewer people using the healthcare system.”

Nursing professor and infectious disease epidemiologist Sanghyuk Shin says that the omicron variant has spread exponentially and is now responsible for three out of four COVID illnesses in the U.S.

This is very concerning, since delta is already causing more than 1,000 deaths every day. He notes that hospitals in many parts of the country, including New York, Florida and the midwest are already overwhelmed. Some states have requested the National Guard for assistance.

Even more worrying: Holiday travel has surged back to pre-pandemic levels.

“It’s important to remember the alpha variant entered the country around Thanksgiving last year and was dominant within months,” he says. “Unfortunately, this is already happening with the omicron variant, and it’s spreading at a much faster rate than alpha or delta.”

Tips for staying safe this winter

The answer isn’t panic, though.

“We should focus on strengthening general public health measures for COVID,” he says.

To keep safe this winter, he recommends people:

  • Limit large gatherings
  • Gather outdoors
  • Open windows when indoors and use HEPA filters to improve ventilation
  • Get your vaccinations, including booster shot
  • Wear a mask, especially high-quality, tight-fitting masks (e.g. KN95)
  • Test often, before and after gatherings

Public health measures Shin would like to see implemented include:

  • Making testing mandatory for domestic and international travel regardless of vaccination status
  • Strengthen Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) requirements for smaller businesses to mandate vaccines, masks and improved ventilation
  • Supply free or highly subsidized masks and rapid tests
  • Mandate paid sick leave
  • Implement capacity restrictions for indoor gatherings

Global inequality contributing to variants

Shin says that not every country has access to the vaccines like the United States.

One problem he notes is that Pfizer and Moderna will not share the technology they use to make their vaccines. That blocks the ability of other manufacturers to produce the vaccines on their own.

“Many countries in Africa and other parts of the world have limited access to vaccines,” Shin points out. “This leads to uncontrolled spread of COVID, so new variants will continue to emerge.”

By the time a new vaccine is created to target omicron, there could already be new variants to contend with.

“This whack-a-mole won’t end until vaccines are available for everyone globally.”

Contact Sanghyuk Shin.

Contact Susanne Phillips.

For more information, to support a future nurse or nurse-led research, please connect to Juliana Goswick, Director of Development at

2021-12-22T07:05:50-08:00December 22nd, 2021|News|

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