Half of Fresno County positive Covid cases tested for latest variant

U.S. Air Force Graphic by Rosario “Charo” Gutierrez

Fresno County health officials acknowledged the widely-headlined Covd-19 variant of concern, Omicron, but reminded the public that Delta is still dominating the scene. 

While it’s important for the public to know about Omicron, Interim Director Dr. Rais Vohra said it should be contextualized within the current dealings of Delta, which is represented by most Covid-19 hospitalizations in Fresno County.

“We really need everyone to work hard to get these vaccines out to the folks that need them,” said Vohra. “Really everyone over age 5 at this point should be getting vaccinated, getting their second shot or getting their booster.”

There are still many unknowns about the newest variant – how virulent and contagious it is. Though there are no cases of the Omicron variant in Fresno County. Yet, it’s inevitable that Fresno County sees Omicron cases show up soon, Vohra said. 

However, he said it won’t change the protocols that are already in place – getting vaccinated, staying home when sick, washing hands, masking up and practicing social distancing. 

“Really it’s the same layers of protection that are really going to work,” he said. 

Fresno County is primed for detecting the Omicron variant at its lab. 

Earlier in the pandemic, the county wasn’t able to get much genome sequencing done in order to detect variants. But the state has allocated resources to private labs to detect them. 

Half of the positive test samples in Fresno County are being genome sequenced, said Joe Prado, interim assistant director for the health department. This feeds into the state database, which Prado says helps give more accuracy to the numbers. The state has also mentioned that it would like Fresno County’s lab to conduct genome sequencing in the near future.

“We’re in conversations with the state this week,” Prado said. 

Turnaround times for genome sequencing are still two weeks. 

Prado also said that booster shots are up.

Currently 53% of the population is fully vaccinated, and 60% have received at least one dose.

“There was a significant bump in boosters. Boosters previously were low 20% of our doses per day. Now they are 50% of our doses per day,” Prado said. 

Despite declining Covid-19 hospitalizations, health officials are still preparing for a possible winter surge. But hospitals are already stretched thin and hurting for staff. 

Vohra said hospitals would be quite strained if there is another surge this winter. Non-Covid hospitalizations keep the beds occupied and the hospitals full. 

“Emergency surgeries happen all the time, whether that’s related to the traumas that come into our trauma center, or people just come down with appendicitis or need to have a C-section right away,” Vohra said. 

This certainly contributes to impacted hospitals, he said. But the volume is also attributed to people with cardiovascular disease, strokes or pneumonia. 

“Because we’re already really restricted in the number of beds and resources that we have in the Valley, it always is a challenge to try to make new beds and find new staff to take on additional volume,” Vohra said. 

But even with occupied beds, the real shortage is staff. Hospitals are telling the health department that there are sometimes dozens of people out related to Covid protocols, or they have had a loss to what Vohra called “pandemic attrition” and are unable to refill the positions fast enough. 

“That leads to kind of a chronic staff shortage,” he said. 

The state is trying to fill as many positions as it can with contracted travelers. 

“It’s still just a weekly reassessment about what exactly they’re going to be able to send in terms of human resources to help the hospitals out,” Vohra said. 

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