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More but less severe cases of the virus are straining bed capacity, a hospitals group says.

PMG FILE PHOTO - A hospitalized COVID-19 patient.Hospitalizations from the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19 soon will exceed the peak from the delta variant, according to the Oregon Association of Hospitals & Health Systems.

"The next couple of weeks are going to be really tough, and it is important for people to understand that," association President Becky Hultberg said during a Thursday, Jan. 20, press conference. "There is a war going on in our hospitals against this virus that isn't visible to the public."

"We have 1,059 confirmed and suspected hospitalized COVID-19 patients," Hultberg said. "Our delta hospitalization peak was just over 1,200. We're on track to exceed that peak possibly by this weekend, maybe early next week."

Hultberg said hospitalizations have been growing steadily and it is accelerating. Shortages in treatments effective against the omicron variant — such as monoclonal antibody treatments and antiviral pills — have complicated hospitals' responses, she said.

"This omicron surge is different than delta," she said. "Delta hit Southern and Central Oregon harder than other regions of the state, but omicron is impacting all regions of the state and pretty much all hospitals in the state."

She described the stress on hospitals as approaching a "breaking point," but said there is good news.

"The good news is that most patients in the hospital with COVID-19 aren't as sick as they were during the delta wave," Hultberg said. "But the sheer number of patients, exacerbated by staffing and discharge challenges, has the potential to overwhelm the health care system."

Hultberg called for more support for health care centers but thanked the deployment of National Guard members to Oregon hospitals. She said hospitals are facing staffing shortages from both sick calls and people quitting their jobs.

"Schools have gone remote, businesses have shut down, but that is not an option for a hospital," Hultberg said.

Hospitals are relying on contract staffing instead, she said, calling it an expensive, but essential option that is not sustainable for the long term.

Delays in moving patients to places like long-term care facilities have put a wrench in discharges, which keeps hospital beds filled in the meantime with people who could find more appropriate care elsewhere, Hultberg said.

"Today, hospitals have 582 patients who could be discharged from the hospital but there's nowhere for them to go," she said. "They may need a nursing home, a rehab bed, behavioral health support or they may not even have a home to go to."

Hultberg said it is "past time" for the issue to be addressed.

The Oregon Association of Hospitals & Health Systems is a trade organization that coordinates among local leaders in government, business and the health care community.

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