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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.

Omicron is doubling every two to three days and more kids are being infected, Cleveland doctors say

Hospital officials, including Shannon Pengel, chief nursing officer at Cleveland Clinic's Main Campus (left) and Dr. Raed Dweik, Cleveland Clinic Respiratory Institute Chairman (right) answered media questions on Tuesday during a virtual media briefing. Officials said Cuyahoga County has the third-highest COVID-19 rate in the country.

Cuyahoga County has the third-highest COVID-19 rate in the country, University Hospitals and Cleveland Clinic officials said during a joint virtual media briefing on Tuesday.

Northeast Ohio hospitals are also seeing more COVID-19 patients than ever before, partially due to the highly contagious omicron variant. 

Currently, there are 394 total hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the UH hospitals system and 19%  are in the intensive care unit, said Dr. Daniel Simon, president of UH medical centers.

"Last week, within the United States, about 13 percent of the new cases were Omicron, and now, as of last night, it's 73 percent. It seems to be doubling every two to three days," said Dr. Claudia Hoyen of UH Rainbow Babies and Children. 

The most contagious virus in the world is measles, Hoyen said. Each person with measles could infect about 18 people, which is its reproduction factor, she said. The new omicron variant has a reproduction factor of about 15. 

"It is the second most contagious virus on the planet currently," Hoyen said. "We are in a much different position than we actually even were two weeks ago."

“We have moms that are leaving with memory bags instead of their newborns."

Pediatric departments are also seeing more kids with COVID-19, possibly due to more kids in schools than last year and fewer schools with mask mandates, Hoyen said. 

Hoyen has seen kids with acute COVID symptoms and other illnesses caused by the virus. 

“We are seeing those long-term effects in children, which are also taxing our resources, so we all need to do what we can to protect our most vulnerable patients," she said. 

Those long-term COVID effects can show up as MIS-C, an inflammatory syndrome, and symptoms that won't go away, she said. 

Hospitals are filled with COVID-19 patients, which means kids might have to wait for treatment for congenital heart defects or injuries from accidents, Hoyen said

“Pediatric care is very specialized, it’s not like we can take kids over to the adult side to have them cared for," she said. 

Hospitals and intensive care units (ICUs) are seeing more pregnant women who have COVID-19 as well, said Stephanie Harper, an OB/GYN nurse at the UH MacDonald Hospital for Women. 

Having COVID while pregnant can affect the fetus and baby as well.

“We have moms that are leaving with memory bags instead of their newborns," Harper said. 

Women who have COVID are four times more likely to have a stillbirth, Hoyen said.

"We are on our fifth or sixth marathon now, and there's no end in sight."

The surge, the threat of more cases over the holiday season, and the approach of the two-year mark of the pandemic are all leading health care workers to leave the industry, which then leads hospitals to be short-staffed.

"From the very beginning, we knew this was going to be a long haul. I was telling my teams every day that this is not a sprint, this is a marathon," said Dr. Raed Dweik, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic Respiratory Institute.

"But this has now turned out to be multiple marathons. We are on our fifth or sixth marathon now, and there's no end in sight, so our teams now are beyond exhausted."

The worst part is putting someone on a breathing machine knowing that it was preventable if the person had just gotten the COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Dweik said.

He recommends getting vaccinated and wearing a mask to slow the spread of COVID-19.  
Copyright 2021 WCPN. To see more, visit WCPN.

Lisa Ryan is a health reporter at Ideastream Public Media.