By Peter D'Oench

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The chief medical officer at the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital says the omicron variant of the coronavirus is taking a toll on younger patients and those with special needs.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Marcos Mestre told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench that “we are seeing many more patients under the age of 5 affected by the variant as opposed to variants in the past, and there are a couple of factors. Number one, the lack of vaccinations for that age group. And number two, this omicron variant tends to operate on the upper airwaves and tends to affect children.”

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Dr. Mestre added, “This seems to be focusing on younger children and special needs children with medical complexities.”

He said doctors are nurses are working extra hours to protect the pediatric patients and said the number of pediatric patients this month with COVID could surpass a summer monthly peak of 150 patients.”

Dr. Mestre said, “From a fatigue standpoint dealing with this is hard enough. And from a staffing standpoint, we do have a lot of staff members who have been out with COVID infection. Therefore, we have had a lot of employees who have to step in and work extra shifts and hours. I think we may be seeing the peak or getting past the serious part of this. We are seeing more staff coming in and a decrease in the emergency department and care centers indicating a decline.”

Dr. Mestre said he expects to see a significant decline in cases by early February. Some medical experts expect to see a peak in cases in mid-January.

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Statewide, the Department of Health and Human Services reported 19.48% of the ICU beds are being used by COVID-19 patients. This was based on a study of 262 hospitals.

COVID is also impacting hospital staff.

At the Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Dr. Carla McWilliams, the chief of infectious disease, told CBS4 that 7% of the staff was out sick last Wednesday because of COVID-19. It means that 250 of the 3,600 employees were out sick.

“We had 7% last Wednesday,” she said. “After that it was 8%. It’s a mixture of people across the board from doctors to nurses to folks answering the phone. It’s everyone from environmental services to laboratory personnel. I think the difference in our care is for our patient when you have so many of our care givers who are ill themselves. We are also vulnerable to illness so that makes things challenging.”

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She added, “I think a lot of us in health care are tired. It’s been hard to manage all the COVID patients and the waves. It is very disruptive to patients who need care outside COVID-19. I hope this wave won’t last too long and will settle down. We have seen a lot of break through infections but fortunately it is not leading to high ICU admission rates.”

Peter D'Oench