Will Omicron really find everybody?

Probably. But that doesn’t mean everyone will become severely ill. Here’s how to mitigate that risk.

Health care experts agree the Omicron variant is highly transmissible. So is it impossible for people to dodge?

Dr. Christopher Udovich, medical director at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, said it’s fair to assume people will either get it or be exposed to it.

But the “COVID” message is unchanged, he said, and then listed all the ways people can still protect themselves.

• Get vaccinated and boosted if you are eligible to lower the risk of severe illness if you are exposed.

• Wear a well-fitting facemask.

• Avoid large gatherings.

• Wash your hands.

• Contact your primary care provider if you are exposed or feeling ill or have COVID-19 symptoms.

What has changed, Udovich said, is people’s realization that COVID-19 “is out there.” And, of course, Silver Cross is caring for more COVID-19-positive patients than it was two years ago.

The peak number in 2020 was 126 COVID-19-positive inpatients, according to a Jan. 6 Herald-News story. On Wednesday, it was 135, Udovich said.

Silver Cross also paused elective surgeries last week and this week to ensure sufficient beds and to redeploy surgical nurses to other areas of the hospital, Udovich said, because Silver Cross is full.

“We have a total of 350 patients in the hospital today,” Udovich said. “And we are licensed for 300.”

Udovich said patients are being treated in overflow areas. And it does strain the staff, he said.

“People are working longer hours and working hard,” Udovich said. “But we are holding our own.”

Udovich said some of the COVID-19 patients do come into the hospital for other reasons than COVID-19 and are found they have COVID-19 upon admission. He said, overall, patients who are vaccinated and/or boosted experience milder illness.

Vaccinated and boosted patients come in because of fatigue, dehydration or an inability to get around. But the main reason people get admitted for COVID-19 is trouble breathing, Udovich said

One sign of hope: Silver Cross’ positivity rate leveled off last week, Udovich said.

“That gives me hope that we are at the peak,” Udovich said. “At least for our hospital and our area.”

One final message from Udovich: Be kind to the health care professionals you encounter, especially if their fuses seem a bit short.

“People are just tired,” Udovich said.

Dr. John Bolden, an infectious disease physician with Morris Hospital and Healthcare Centers, said he doesn’t feel the omicron issue is “all gloom and doom.”

Bolden does feel most people will be infected or exposed to COVID-19, but the extent of risk also depends on people’s personal and professional circumstances, he said.

To lower the risk of exposure and infection, people should avoid large crowds – such as sporting events, shopping malls and packed aisles in the grocery stores – social distance, wear a facemask and wash hands often.

If you do test positive and have to quarantine, Bolden said it’s important to stay hydrated to keep secretions in the nose and lungs loose. Drinking six to eight glasses a water a day will help and so will using a humidifier.

Although getting plenty of rest is important, so is getting up and moving around, even outside after a couple of days if you’re feeling better, he said. This will help increase lung capacity.

“If you get your lungs opened up so you can cough, you can help facilitate getting rid of secretions,” Bolden said.

If you live at home with others, don’t share cups, plates and utensils and wash your laundry separately on high heat, Bolden said.

Bolden said most of the people hospitalized with COVID-19 at Morris Hospital are unvaccinated, but he said vaccinated people do occasionally get sick enough to be hospitalized and wind up on a ventilator.

In many cases, those people were vaccinated early in 2021 and “lost some of their protective immunity,” Bolden said. Or they may have certain comorbidities that make them particularly susceptible to severe illness: cancer, renal failure, diabetes, obesity, underlying lung disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and transplants.

“Those factors come into play when getting severely ill with [COVID-19],” Bolden said.