The US, which had already been ravaged by the Delta variant, is now going through another wave of infections after the emergence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant. According to a report, the number of Americans hospitalised with Covid-19 has surpassed last winter’s peak, highlighting the seriousness of the threat the virus continues to pose as the extremely contagious Omicron variant rages across the country.
According to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services, 142,388 people with the virus were hospitalised nationwide as of Sunday, surpassing the single-day peak of 142,315 reported on Jan 14 of last year, the New York Times reported. The seven-day average of daily hospitalizations was 132,086, up 83% from two weeks ago.
The Omicron wave has flooded hospitals and depleted staffs that were already exhausted by the Delta variant. It has been fueled in large part by people under the age of 60. Daily admissions among people over the age of 60 are still lower than last winter, the report said.
The hospitalisation totals also include people who test positive for the virus after being admitted for conditions unrelated to Covid-19; no national data is available to show how many people fall into this category.
According to the report, data from some of the first cities hit by Omicron show a sharp increase in deaths — not as quickly as case rates, but fast enough to warn of more devastation to come. Doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel are also becoming ill, and while the majority have been vaccinated and have not required hospitalisation, their illness keeps them from working. Hospitals that have been overrun by coronavirus patients are now ill-equipped to handle other emergencies such as heart attacks, appendicitis, and traumatic injuries.
What Do These Figures Signify? Experts Say Delta May Be Behind Deaths
Covid-19 hospitalizations in the United States have increased by about 33% and deaths are up by about 40% from a week earlier, the head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, speaking on a media call, said US Covid-19 cases, driven by the fast spreading Omicron variant, are expected to peak in the coming weeks.
“The magnitude of this increase is largely related to the Omicron variant, which now represents about 90% of the Covid-19 cases in the country,” she told reporters. Hospitalizations have been on the rise since late December as Omicron surpassed the Delta variant as the dominant version of the coronavirus in the United States, although experts say Omicron will likely prove less deadly than prior iterations.
The recent increase in Covid deaths is likely a lagging effect of the Delta variant, which was surging before Omicron took hold in the United States in December, Walensky said. With Delta and other prior variants, deaths have lagged infection rates by a few weeks.
“We may see deaths from Omicron but I suspect that the deaths that we’re seeing now are still from Delta,” Walensky said, adding that it will take time to understand how Omicron l impacts coronavirus death totals.
High Case Count, If Not Deaths, Is Also Worrying
The sharp rise in cases in many states may be followed by sharp drops, as seen in South Africa, but experts warn that the sheer volume of cases may still result in a significant number of extremely sick people, even from a variant that causes less severe disease overall, reports the New York Times.
“We’re going to have a lot of people sick,” said Janet Hamilton, executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. “Even if a smaller proportion of those individuals have really horrible illnesses and adverse outcomes, it’s still a lot of people.” With so many people at risk of infection right now, public health experts say that keeping an eye on case counts and trends can encourage people to make protective decisions.
Hospitals Under Strain
Because the Omicron variant appears to cause less severe illness, hospitalisation figures may reveal less about the disease and more about the strain on the health-care system, which affects everyone.
Hospitalizations have not yet grown as rapidly as cases, but this metric tends to lag behind case counts, and it may be too early to assess Omicron’s full impact. What is clear is that the number of people hospitalised with Covid has already surpassed the peak of the Delta-led wave and is continuing to rise sharply.
Across the country, hospitals, emergency rooms, urgent care centres, and doctors’ offices are overcrowded and understaffed.
Flaws in Hospitalisation Numbers
The figures for hospitalisation are not without flaws. “National data don’t allow us to differentiate between people hospitalised for Covid-19 and those who happened to test positive while admitted for something else,” said Jason L. Salemi, an epidemiologist at the University of South Florida who monitors Covid data.
Because Omicron is so easily transmitted, these “incidental patients” may be more common right now. According to some hospitals, these patients may account for up to half of all hospitalizations.
Stark Gap Between Vaccinated & Unvaccinated
According to data comparison from the New York city and Seattle area, a New York Times report states how there is a stark gap between hospitalisation and death rates for those vaccinated (being low) and those unvaccinated (being high).
With inputs from the New York Times, Reuters