RICHLAND, WA - Omicron is now the dominant variant of COVID in the U.S. This is hot on the heels of a relatively 'quiet' few months on the local COVID front. Finally, case numbers and hospitalizations relented a little bit. However, the huge Delta surge was really just a couple of months ago. 

Now, with the highly contagious Omicron variant spreading quickly local healthcare workers are getting ready.

"We are preparing for a surge," said Dr. Phani Kantamneni of Kadlec Regional Medical Center. "We are expecting that the case numbers will go up."

Christmas is just days away now. It was right around Thanksgiving, only a month ago, that news of the new variant started making headlines around the world. 

"So there's a few things we know about Omicron and a few things that we don't," said Dr. Kantamneni. "Things we do know is that it is infectious and it spreads faster than the variants we've had so far."

As many plan to spend Christmas together instead of apart this year he said quickly rising case numbers in places like the U.K., New York and even in the Seattle area are good indicators of what's to come here. 

"This has been a long pandemic not just for the healthcare workers but for the whole world," said Dr. Kantamneni. "The whole world is facing shortages in one way or another. Staff shortages or motivational shortages. So we enjoy the break when we can get it. Since the Delta surge we've had a bit of relief."

A bit of relief that he does not expect to last. His concern is the low number of vaccinations in much of eastern Washington. Places like Whitman and Garfield counties have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. Kadlec is a regional hospital that serves those residents. Therefore, he does expect a surge in hospitalizations. 

"We are recouping, regrouping and preparing for the worst," said Dr. Kantamneni. "We hope the worst doesn't come but this pandemic has taught us something, right? So we always have to prepare for the worst."

It's a stark reality. Health experts around the world touting vaccinations as the best defense against COVID. 

"Be careful," said Dr. Kantamneni.