MIDLAND, Texas (Nexstar)- Midland Memorial Hospital held a news conference Tuesday to update the community on its coronavirus response amid the emerging Omicron variant. 

As of Tuesday morning, the hospital reported it is caring for 40 patients with the virus. 36 of those patients are considered “active” cases, while four others remain hospitalized as they recover, but are not currently testing positive for coronavirus. The hospitalized patients range in age from 26 to 94 with most of the patients being under the age of 70. . According to the hospital, 82.5% of those hospitalized are unvaccinated. 

So far in December, six hospitalized patients have died from coronavirus complications. 

“That’s well ahead of the pace we saw in November when we had a total of 16 (deaths),” said MMH Chief Executive Officer Russell Meyers. 

Meyers also said the positivity rate is slightly up. So far, MMH’s testing centers are reporting an 18% positivity rate this week on the heels of a busy testing week last week. 

“Last week was a very busy week in our testing centers. We tested more patients and had more positive patients than we’d had in about eight weeks,” Meyers said. 

Meyers attributed the slight uptick in coronavirus cases to Thanksgiving gatherings. Now, hospital leaders are reminding the community to be mindful of the virus throughout the holiday season. Especially as the newly identified Omicron variant begins making the rounds. 

According to Meyers, the new variant has not yet been identified in Midland, but is most likely already here, or will be soon. Meyers said the variant is highly transmissible and is easily passed from one person to another, even among vaccinated people. Some good news, though, so far, the variant causes less severe symptoms than the Delta variant that made its way through the Tall City over the summer. 

“All indications so far are that the symptoms are much less severe, there’s been little hospitalization associated with it, and no reported deaths that we are aware of,” Meyers said.

As the holiday season approaches, and the new variant makes its way through the U.S., MMH is in a good position to care for anyone who tests positive for coronavirus, no matter the variant. Especially now that the plans for a hospital wide vaccine mandate are on hold. 

Meyers said as the mandate from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the primary governing body of hospitals across the country, makes its way through the court system, the hospital has suspended all plans to require every hospital employee to be vaccinated by January. 

“It is suspended…but we are prepared, should the appeals courts uphold the right of the federal government to mandate vaccinations in hospitals, to go right back to work, implement our policies, and get that done. We certainly were concerned, and remain concerned, that we could have a loss of staff in some areas, making it very difficult to continue the patient care activity where those staff are concentrated. Fortunately, we’re not going to have to face that in the near term, but should the mandate be re-implemented, while we’ll do everything we can to prevent staff from leaving us, we certainly have plenty of indication from a number of our people that they intend to take a stand, to refuse to be told what they can do with their bodies…so we remain at risk for some staff loss, but we’ve had a reprieve from that and we are thankful for that as our hospital remains very busy,” Meyers said.