Americans out sick because of COVID-19 reaches nearly 9 million

Amid the latest COVID-19 surge fueled by the omicron variant, significant numbers of employees across healthcare and other industries have had to miss work because of illness and other reasons related to the virus. Those numbers recently hit a record high, according to new data from the Census Bureau.

Between Dec. 29 and Jan. 10, about 8.8 million workers reported to the bureau they were not working because they tested positive for COVID-19 or were taking care of someone who was sick with the virus. 

The new figures are nearly three times the levels from the first two weeks of December and the highest numbers since the bureau began the survey in April 2020, exceeding January 2021's peak of 6.6 million workers out, The Washington Post reported.

The numbers reflect the effects the latest surge has had on businesses and workers throughout the country, with some calling the trend the "great American sickout," according to CBS News.

Hospitals and health systems have not only grappled with staffing shortages because of workers out sick with COVID-19, but also because of workers leaving their jobs or professions amid the pandemic's toll. New daily COVID-19 hospitalization rates in the U.S. have risen 36 percent over the last 14 days, according to HHS data tracked by The New York Times.

"The last six months have been a big challenge," Brett McClain, COO of San Diego-based Sharp HealthCare system, told The Washington Post. "We're all tired, we're all sick of this, we're all frustrated by everything going on, so unfortunately it has absolutely impacted the workforce overall. Then you have your staff that are now infected in greater numbers than ever before."

Mr. McClain reported about 1,500 out of 19,000 Sharp employees were out because of illness as of Jan. 18.

Alan Levine, chairman and president and CEO of Johnson City, Tenn.-based Ballad Health, reported a similar trend.

"More than 750 [Ballad Health] employees are out today having tested positive for COVID," he tweeted Jan. 19. "This is putting an enormous strain on the hospitals and patients as we continue doing elective procedures and caring for 350+ COVID patients +others."

He added, "Our team is doing all they can to avoid deferring elective surgeries. ER wait times will definitely be frustrating as ER doctors and nurses prioritize those who are highest risk. Our nurses and doctors who are there are stretched and doing their best. We stand behind them."

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