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Exclusive-U.S. NIH research hospital delays elective surgeries as Omicron wave hits -Breaking


© Reuters. FILEPHOTO: New York City’s Omicron coronavirus continues to be spread by people waiting in Times Square for their COVID-19 tests. This is December 26th, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

By Marisa Taylor

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – A new wave of COVID-19 infection driven by Omicron variant has forced the U.S. National Institutes of Health in Washington to delay elective surgery at the country’s largest hospital devoted to clinical research. According to Reuters memo review, a greater number of employees must quarantine or isolate the Omicron variant.

In an email sent to employees on Wednesday, Dr. James Gilman (NIH’s chief executive officer) stated that elective surgery would begin next week. On Wednesday, at least 80 staff from the clinical center were ill due to COVID-19 exposures or infections.

Gilman stated that NIH has “run dangerously low” on chemicals it needs to run its COVID-19 tests and that there are “reagents in short supply all over the place.”

This decision is indicative about the disruptions to the workforce that Americans can expect as they return to work next week after the holiday season. From an estimate of 40,000 employees, 250 cases of COVID-19 were reported across all of NIH.

Gilman said that the situation had gotten worse by each day. If there’s any positive news, it could be that Omicron should peak quickly so we can return to business as normal soon. But, business cannot go on as normal next week.

Gilman explained that the silver lining of many employees’ cases is that they aren’t spreading to other areas.

“The Clinical Center doesn’t currently have staff shortages,” NIH spokesperson Renate Myles said. Dr. Gilman has been proactive in making adjustments to prepare for possible shortages.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lowered last week the required isolation time for healthcare workers. This was because they feared that Omicron’s highly-transmissible Omicron could sideline crucial staff as well as hospital beds being flooded by new COVID patients.

The CDC this week also cut in half the recommended isolation period for other Americans with asymptomatic COVID in advance of an expected surge that could force workers in many other industries to stay home even if they aren’t ill or infectious.

Gilman addressed the NIH staff at Bethesda in Maryland to emphasize the danger of patients having to travel outside of an emergency. They are involved in hundreds of clinical trials.

Gilman stated that “I sincerely apologise in advance for this sudden action without further warning, but extreme circumstances again demand for extreme measures.”

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