Dr. Marjorie Bessel said healthcare workers are contracting COVID, leading to a staffing crunch as hospitals are facing increased demand.

COVID hospitalizations are on an upward climb thanks to the Omicron variant and healthcare workers are contracting the virus, leading to staffing crunches at Banner Health.

As a result of the staffing crunch, some Banner urgent care locations are closed, causing longer wait times at other urgent care facilities, according to Dr. Marjorie Bessel, Banner Health chief clinical officer, who gave a media briefing on Tuesday, Jan. 11.

Banner’s staffing shortage reflects a national shortage of healthcare workers due to the surge of Omicron.

“Recently we have had to temporarily close some of our urgent care locations due to staff availability," Bessel said. "This has resulted in longer wait times at the urgent cares that remain open. For this reason, we recommend that you check online to make sure the Banner Urgent Care location nearest you is open before you 2 arrive, and when possible, schedule your appointment online to reduce your wait time.”

Banner is following the crisis CDC guidelines when allowing health care workers to return to work after being infected with the COVID virus. All healthcare workers have to remain out of the workplace for five days from the date of their positive tests and are screened for symptoms before returning to work process. Individuals that are asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic may return to work.

In addition, Banner is using outside contracted workers at its hospitals during this surge to compensate for the staffing shortage.

With crowded emergency rooms and long waits, Bessel said Banner is using ERs for life-threatening issues and asked Arizonans to consider primary care doctors and urgent care clinics for non-emergency needs.

She also urged Arizonans to get vaccinated and receive a booster shot because it’s “the best way to prevent serious COVID illness that requires hospital level care.” She also said people should mask up when indoors, preferably with a fitted KN95 mask, stay home when feeling sick and to get tested when experiencing symptoms.

COVID treatment options remain limited. Sotrovimab, a monoclonal antibody treatment for those who test positive, is in short supply and will require a doctor’s recommendation for patients. Due to limited supply, not all eligible patients will receive the treatment.

Oral antivirals such as paxlovid and molnupiravir, which have received emergency use authorization by the FDA for patients that meet the clinical requirements, are also in limited supply and are being distributed to roughly 32 retail pharmacies across the state. These medications also require a referral.

Bessel said Omicron has yet to peak but she predicted it will be in weeks to come based on how the virus has behaved in other countries, where the descent of the variant has been just as rapid as its spread.

“We continue to learn through the pandemic," Bessel said. “Banner Health, as we have been throughout the entire pandemic, continues to operate and evaluate our business on a day-to-day basis and will make appropriate responses based on the needs of our community.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story suggested all Banner Urgent Care clinics had been temporarily closed. Only some have have been closed.

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