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Hospitals In For 'Rough' January, Says UMass Memorial Health Care President

WORCESTER (CBS) – The president of UMass Memorial Health Care says this month is going to be "rough" for hospitals in the state.

Dr. Eric Dickson told WBZ-TV's Christina Hager Monday that the "crunch time" for this latest surge of COVID-19 will be in the next two weeks. He said the positivity rates are so high because the Omicron variant is a "hyper-infectious virus."

"We have never seen positive test rates like this. Not in either of the two surges," he said. "Hopefully it won't generate as many hospitalizations."

There have been long lines at testing sites around Massachusetts the last few weeks, including in Worcester and Brockton on Monday.

"This is just a complete game-changer in terms of the infectivity and that's why we're seeing so many people infected. Test positivity rates coming out of our 'Stop the Spread' sites at 25 and 30 percent. We've never seen anything like that during any of the previous surges," Dr. Dickson said.

"If this variant is anything like Delta, even half as infectious, you're going to see the hospitals in this state really completely overwhelmed and not be able to keep up."

There have been calls to close schools temporarily or switch to remote learning, something the state and Gov. Charlie Baker have rejected repeatedly.

"If we shut down schools today, I'm not sure it will have any impact. I think this virus is going to sweep through this state. It's going to get everyone infected that isn't immunized and many people that are immunized are going to get infected," Dr. Dickson told WBZ. "It might help, but the time to do that was weeks ago, not now."

Dickson said testing is extremely important – to identify who is positive and keep them away from others, to slow the spread of the virus so hospitals can keep up.

"It is going to be a rough, rough January for hospitals in this state," he said, noting that hospitals are facing a "perfect storm" right now. He explained there are competing demands - they need more people in testing tents, they need more staff for patient care in the hospital and there are hundreds of health care workers that can't work because they're infected with COVID-19.

Dickson said if UMass Memorial had a field hospital up and running right now, as it did earlier in the pandemic, it would be full.

As for setting one up now, the doctor said it's too late. Dickson said the time to have done that would have been a month ago, to prepare for the peak.

But the peak is expected in the next two weeks. Dickson said it takes a minimum of two weeks to get a field hospital up and running and we'll be past the surge at that point.

"Sadly, I don't think people have taken this surge as seriously as previous and we'll likely pay a price for that," he told WBZ. "It seems like there's no sense of urgency outside of the hospitals right now and it's very frustrating for the people that are dealing with this on a daily basis."

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

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