California hospitals overwhelmed despite omicron causing less serious illness


California’s healthcare system is expected to face continued stress in coming weeks as the Omicron variant spawns new waves of coronavirus infection, even as new research shows the latest phase of the pandemic is producing significantly less severe illness.

Officials say they are focusing on protecting hospital operations, which are facing severe staffing shortages as workers get infected, but they hope the system can withstand Omicron. They continue to urge people to do all they can to avoid getting infected.

Omicron “is less severe than previous variants,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a press briefing in Paramount on Wednesday. Intensive care units are nowhere near as busy with COVID-19 patients as they were a year ago.

But it’s also true that never before in the pandemic have so many people been simultaneously infected with the coronavirus. And that is leaving emergency rooms inundated, ambulances facing delays dropping people off at hospitals, and patients seeing their scheduled surgeries canceled.

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