Northern Virginia health care system makes urgent appeal in wake of ‘unprecedented’ hospitalizations

Sentara Healthcare said a 300% increase in hospitalizations in Northern Virginia in 10 days as of Thursday is being driven by the omicron variant — and the health care system’s top doctor is appealing to people to get vaccinated, wear masks in public and adhere to good pandemic practices.

“We are seeing unprecedented levels of admissions from COVID, or with COVID, than we have ever seen before,” said Dr. Jordan Asher, chief physician executive at Sentara Healthcare. “This is effectively our fourth peak, and it is our highest peak. And it is a peak that is continuing to increase every day at greater rates than we have seen before.”

Asher has a message for people who believe their risk of getting COVID is low or who may be misled hearing about advances in various treatments: “Only one of the three monoclonal antibodies that are out on the market right now work for omicron,” he said. “And on top of that, there’s an incredibly short, limited supply of those.”

New oral medications, only appropriate for use in some cases, also are in limited supply.

“So please don’t think that, ‘It’s OK if I get COVID because there are medications that will prevent me from getting very sick, ending up in the emergency room or the hospital.’ Right now, I would not be thinking that way,” Asher said.

Soaring COVID-19 numbers are impacting the availability of hospital staff, even though the vast majority has been vaccinated.

When asked how critical staffing levels are, Asher said the system is monitoring conditions “on a per-minute basis.”

He said that Santeria is a large system that has the ability to move people around to provide help where needed and that supplies of personal protective equipment, or PPE, are plentiful.

“Today, we are able to take care of all the patients that we have,” Asher said, declining to make any predictions.

He did, however, project a sense of urgency, asking everyone to do their part by getting vaccinated and wearing masks in public.

“Please, even though you might not be as worried about yourself, worry about your loved ones, worry about your colleagues, worry about your neighbors, and if you don’t feel well, stay home” he said. “Because yes, you might not be the one that gets sick and needs our care in the hospital, but someone else will.”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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