HIGH POINT — The surge in COVID-19 cases because of the omicron variant is straining the delivery of health care like no time since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic 22 months ago, the CEOs of the Triad’s three health systems said in an unprecedented joint briefing Monday.

The warnings from the health care leaders, and their pleas for people to get fully vaccinated and get a booster shot, came on the same day that Guilford County Schools started to use public bus transportation for eight high schools in High Point and Greensboro because of school bus driver shortfalls from COVID-19 infections.

Students at High Point Central and Andrews high schools may have to use public transportation for two weeks. They can ride city of High Point transit buses for free by showing their Guilford County Schools ID card.

The bus service change also affects students at the Kearns Academy magnet school who live in High Point. The change doesn’t affect Southwest Guilford High School in north High Point and Ragsdale High School in Jamestown because those areas don’t have extensive public bus service.

In the pandemic briefing, the CEOs of Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, Cone Health and Novant Health said they may face putting off elective surgeries for patients because of the crush of COVID-19 cases. The virtual remote briefing was the first time the CEOs of the systems addressed a public health issue jointly.

The CEOs implored people who aren’t vaccinated to finally get inoculated and asked everyone to wear a mask in public settings and avoid busy places where people do not wear masks to curtail the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant.

“Our health system and ability to care for patients is threatened,” Dr. Mary Jo Cagle of Cone Health said.

There were 83 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the Cone Health system on Dec. 10. A month later, the Monday patient census showed 250 patients hospitalized.

The current wave of omicron-driven cases will continue at least through the end of January, Dr. Julie Freischlag of Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist said. The best-case scenario is that the current spike of infections will begin to tail off starting next month, she said.

The health care system needs help from the public to stem the current COVID-19 wave, Carl Armato of Novant said.

“The pandemic has proven that we are all in this together,” he said. “But health care workers are tired of being heroes.”

The CEOs cited the temporary diversion of Guilford County Schools bus service at eight high schools as a consequence of the current crisis. Staff shortages among EMS and firefighting crews is another.

School district leaders finalized the plans to use public bus transportation during the weekend.

“As of this weekend, we don’t have enough bus drivers to continue serving all students, so we had to make some really difficult choices,” said GCS Chief Operations Officer Michelle Reed.

The change in bus service for the eight high schools comes during the week of state end-of-course tests. Teacher-generated exams were moved back to late last week.

pjohnson@hpenews.com | 336-888-3528 | @HPEpaul

pjohnson@hpenews.com | 336-888-3528 | @HPEpaul

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