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    While staffing struggles are top of mind and patient demand from the “tripledemic” of new COVID-19 strains, RSV and flu cases has soared, this winter so far hasn’t been the gut punch that medical groups suffered in last year’s Omicron wave.
    Healthcare providers haven’t felt a perfect storm from the “Kraken” COVID-19 variant yet this winter like they did in last year’s Omicron wave, according to a new MGMA Stat poll.
    A Jan. 10, 2023, MGMA Stat poll found that half (50%) of medical group leaders said their workers’ COVID-19/sick leave during the past month was less than what they experienced last winter during the spread of the Omicron variant. Additionally:

    • About one-third (33%) of medical groups reported that worker sick leave was about the same as the same period last year
    • Only 17% reported an increase in sick leave relative to last year.

    The poll had 467 applicable responses and reflects a more positive outlook for medical groups compared to similar polling in December 2021 on the impacts from a winter COVID-19 surge, in which practices faced a perfect storm of staggering patient demand for vaccines and testing amid significant worker schedule disruption caused by exposure and confirmed COVID-19 cases.

    The poll, however, does not specifically account for unexpected leave taken due for childcare reasons, which had been at a pandemic-era high in autumn 2022 before falling back to levels seen throughout most of the period since the initial release of COVID-19 vaccines in early 2021, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data.

    Healthcare providers haven’t felt a perfect storm from the “Kraken” COVID-19 variant yet this winter like they did in last year’s Omicron wave, according to a new MGMA Stat poll.

    Masks and booster shots are doing their job

    Among the medical groups that reported lower disruption from employee sick leave, the majority noted that they either kept masking rules in place throughout the COVID-19 pandemic or have been following data on community spread of coronavirus and reinstated masks due to increased prevalence.

    “Due to transmission rates in our area, we have resumed universal masking in all facilities,” one respondent told MGMA. “We are also screening more for symptomatic patients.”

    Some medical group leaders said they are unlikely to make any changes to their masking policy — assuming COVID-19 community spread remains low — until later in spring after the risk of exposure for RSV and flu decreases. Some healthcare leaders told MGMA that programs to require or encourage COVID-19 booster doses for employees also were helpful in minimizing risks of contracting COVID-19 and missing time for sick leave isolating at home.

    Among the medical groups experiencing higher rates of worker sick leave versus the Omicron wave last year, several told MGMA that they have temporarily restored mask rules for patients and workers through the end of January or start of spring, as well as leaning more on virtual meetings to reduce the potential for exposure among groups indoors.

    The pandemic is evolving

    As much as many other areas of society have lowered public health precautions, COVID-19 is still accounting for about 46,670 hospitalizations daily (as of Jan. 10, 2023) and about 580 deaths each day, a rate that is up about 50% in the past two weeks. [View more data via The New York Times’ Coronaviruses in the U.S. page.]

    On Wednesday, Jan. 11, Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra extended the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) declaration for another 90 days, to April 11.

    Understanding where we are in the pandemic today can be difficult as we shift away from specific waves of a major variant to a scenario where there are multiple subvariants circulating that don’t immediately stand out in our minds.

    As noted in Becker’s Hospital Review earlier this week, names like “Kraken,” “Basilisk” and “Centaurus” are used for the BA.2.75 and XBB.1.5 subvariants of Omicron to give a reference to subvariants that might not warrant a Greek letter (e.g., Delta, Omicron) as used in the World Health Organization’s naming system.  

    Ongoing efforts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to use genomic surveillance to identify and track coronavirus variants are detailed in the Nowcast estimates, which offer projected proportions of variants across the country.

    Learn more

    • For a better understanding of the current COVID-19 landscape and its impacts on employers, read SHRM’s recent article on the “Kraken” variants, which details:
      • The potential for increased hospitalizations and deaths
      • Questions about the variant’s ability to circumvent protections from the recent Omicron-specific bivalent vaccines
      • Preventive steps that workplace leaders can take to reduce transmission.
    • This Scientific American article provides information on how contagious the new subvariant is relative to previous variants.


    Your contributions are vital to MGMA’s ongoing work to provide great resources, education and advocacy for medical group leaders. To be part of this effort, sign up for MGMA Stat and make your voice heard in our weekly polls. Sign up by texting “STAT” to 33550 or visit Polls will be sent to your phone via text message.

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