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Omicron variant looms large for Dallas hospitals heading into the holidays

 Dolores Diaz, a nurse at Parkland Memorial Hospital, looks down at the needle as she receives the Covid-19 vaccine on Dec. 15, 2020.
Keren Carrión
Dolores Diaz, a nurse at Parkland Memorial Hospital, receives the Covid-19 vaccine on Dec. 15, 2020.

Hospitals across Dallas are preparing for a potential coronavirus case increase in January due to holiday travel and the new variant omicron. Omicron, first identified in South Africa in early November, is more transmissible than delta, the coronavirus variant that led to a surge in Texas and across the country at the end of July.

“We’re very concerned,” said Stephen Love, the president and CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council. “So if you take where we’re currently at, and then add to it potential omicron cases, and you throw in the holidays as we move into winter time, we’re very, very concerned that we could have some type of big increase in hospitalizations in January and February.”

Love said he’s worried about the current staffing shortages, where nurses and other healthcare workers have left the field due to burnout, headed into a potential COVID-19 surge.

“You can have a bed, you can have the capacity, but you have to have the staff that’s going to service that bed,” Love said. “Our staff is tired. They’re worn out.”

For Dr. David Winter who works in Internal Medicine at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, the past few weeks have shown an unsettling trend.

“The concern is our hospitals are already full,” Winter said. “Hospitals are already pretty much bursting at the seams. A surge is going to be a challenge.”

Love said that if people aren’t exercising caution over the next few weeks of holiday travel, “we’re going to experience in January 2022 precisely what we experienced in 2021.”

In December 2020 and January 2021, Texas had the highest per-day case count since the pandemic started. New cases hovered between 18,000 and 25,000 people infected with the virus statewide per day, with a high of 27,000 people on December 29.

“Over the past two years, we’ve seen several surges,” said Winter. “It appears pretty clear to me that the surge occurs when we start to let our guard down. There's a lesson there. We can stop the spread of this virus if we just do the basic things we know work.”

Love and Winter both said it’s important to note there are widely available vaccines and booster shots, plus options such as antibody treatment centers that aid in recovery if someone does have the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone 16 and older receive a booster shot at least six months after the initial vaccine cycle, and at least two months after receiving a Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Got a tip? Email Elena Rivera at You can follow Elena on Twitter @elenaiswriting.

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Elena Rivera is the health reporter at KERA. Before moving to Dallas, Elena covered health in Southern Colorado for KRCC and Colorado Public Radio. Her stories covered pandemic mental health support, rural community health access issues and vaccine equity across the region.