US Covid-19 hospitalizations reach 100,000 as Omicron continues

A patient with Covid-19 sits in bed in a negative pressure room on January 4, 2022 in the ICU ward of UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Massachusetts. Image: Joseph Prezioso/AFP (Getty Images)

The US has reached another undignified pandemic milestone, with more than 100,000 Americans currently hospitalized with Covid-19. The rise in hospitalizations follows a dramatic rise in cases fueled by the emergence of the Omicron variant. But there are several considerations that will make this spike in illness different from the past.

From Monday, according to a tracker run by Newsnodes and BNO News, 104,737 Americans have been hospitalized with Covid-19, including nearly 20,000 in intensive care units. It is the first time since early September that so many people have been hospitalized and the third time in total during the pandemic. These hospitalizations don’t just affect adults, either. While the raw number of children hospitalized with Covid-19 remains low, the number of pediatric hospitalizations has risen rose recently in multiple states.

Deaths in the US have also risen since December, after a lull in the fall, with nearly 2,000 reported Monday. But they are cases that have skyrocketed in recent times, with record numbers reached in the past week. Just over a million cases were reported on Monday, although many were attributed to a backlog of reporting on weekends and holidays. Even taking this slowdown into account, the current seven-day average of cases is now approaching half a million.

The data is now very clear that an individual case of Omicron is milder on average than an individual case of Delta. This mildness is in part due to the immunity many people have to the coronavirus — immunity that may not prevent infection, but can still dampen the damage done to the body. There is also growing evidence that Omicron is inherently less likely to cause serious disease because it does not infect lung cells as easily as previous virus strains. The exact extent to which the population’s immunity and Omicron’s behavior account for its leniency is still unclear, and for someone without immunity, Omicron may not be any less risky.

Many commentators have argued that Omicron’s leniency doesn’t make this current wave a problem. But as the hospitalization figures show, the country was already in a bad position before Omicron arrived. That’s because many, if not most, hospitalizations this winter aren’t due to Omicron. Early estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention originally predicted that Omicron had overtaken Delta as the dominant species in the US as early as mid-December. But this pale to be wrong, and by Christmas it was still estimated that nearly half of all reported cases in the country were caused by Delta.

The mean time to hospitalization after infection is approximately a week or so, and it may take another week or more for people to recover. So many people who were hospitalized now or recently became infected and sick for the first time weeks before when Delta was still common, when people hospitalized today may still have Delta. The same pattern is even more true for covid-related deaths, as it leads to a month average that someone dies from his infection.

This context is critical because it illustrates that the US health care system was already dealing with a bad winter, and Omicron has only compounded the problem. The variant is clearly capable of infecting people with a previous immunity created by vaccination or a previous infection. And it is Omicron who is responsible for the most recent massive wave of cases. It is these cases that currently flooding emergency rooms and urgent care centers in some areas, and it is Omicron outbreaks that are now making people sick on a massive scale, leading to staff shortages and other disruptions.

The experiences of South Africa, Denmark and the UK – some of the first countries to be affected by Omicron – indicate that waves of Omicron leave behind less serious illness than previous waves of Covid-19. But the US has historically fared worse than many of its contemporaries during the pandemic, for a variety of reasons. For example, this summer the country’s moderate vaccination coverage contributed to the higher number of deaths it faced with regard to other highly vaccinated countries during their respective Delta-led peaks.

There is early US data show that hospitalized Omicron cases are less likely to require the ICU, echoing reports from South Africa. And data continues to indicate that vaccinated people, especially those who received a boost, are far less likely to be vaccinated. hospitalized of each strain of covid-19. This means that much of the country is not at serious risk from Omicron.

But overall, Covid-19 still has major negative impacts on our healthcare and other aspects of society. And the massive increase in cases caused by Omicron this winter could Cancel, at least in part, the advantage of being milder. There is also the question of how many people who contract Omicron will develop chronic symptoms and whether the mildness and/or existing immunity will reduce the risk of long-term covid.

This pandemic wave may crash onto our shores with less impact than before, but that doesn’t mean it won’t leave behind devastation.

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