ST. TAMMANY PARISH (WGNO) – In St. Tammany Parish, cases of COVID-19 are on the rise, along with the number of people in hospitals.

“We’re optimistic because this does not seem to be as severe [as other variants], but we don’t know where it’s headed, ultimately,” said Dr. Richard LeBlanc, the assistant regional medical director for Ochsner – North Shore.

Right now, there are 10 patients being hospitalized for COVID-19 at Ochsner’s North Shore location and 10 patients at Slidell Memorial Hospital. That’s double the number of hospitalizations that were recorded before Christmas.

In recent weeks, according to Dr. LeBlanc, he and his team have seen more people coming to the emergency room and urgent care, but what they’re experiencing now, so far, isn’t as severe as what they experienced with the Delta variant.

“Anywhere from [a] 50 to 75% increase coming through those departments, but those patients are not requiring admission at the same rate as they were earlier with the Delta surge,” explained LeBlanc.

Hospitalizations are mimicking the same trend at St. Tammany Health System.

“We started the day, today, with 26 COVID patients in our hospital, requiring hospital care,” said Dr. Patrick Torcson, the chief medical officer at St. Tammany Health System. “A week ago, that number was 12 COVID patients, and two weeks ago, it was seven. So, post Christmas holidays and gatherings, we are definitely seeing an uptick in the number of patients that are requiring hospitalization.”

Dr. Torcson says one of their goals at the hospital is to make sure their hospital and staff don’t become overwhelmed during a surge.

“So, we have a very well-tested surge plan to be ready to accommodate and take care of patients that do need hospitalization. And additionally, we have a very good plan in place to take care of our healthcare workers,” explained Torcson. “You know, we have plenty of PPE and all the measures on education and support for our healthcare workers.”

Although the future of Omicron remains to be seen, medical professionals say the public can do their part in stopping the spread by being mindful of safety measures and getting vaccinated.

“Clearly, that has a huge impact. It’s true that you can have breakthrough infections, but when that happens, the severity is much less,” said LeBlanc. “You’re not nearly as likely to be hospitalized; you’re not nearly as likely to have severe illness if you’re vaccinated.”

Because of the increase in people wishing to get tested, the parish will be opening a testing site at the parish fairgrounds.

Ochsner will be conducting tests at the Fritchie Park gym in Slidell.

Both sites open tomorrow.