The highly transmissible variant of the Omicron virus is pushing the number of daily cases in the United States to levels above the winter pandemic peak last year.
Hospitalizations are also starting to increase, but not at the same rate as cases. It’s unclear whether they will continue to track the increase in cases, especially given evidence in South Africa and Europe that Omicron may cause fewer severe cases of Covid.
On Friday, before holiday disruptions in data reporting began to affect the country’s daily case count, the seven-day national average of daily new cases topped 197,000, a 65% jump in the 14 past days, and hospitalizations reached an average of seven days of more than 70,000, an increase of 10 percent. Deaths also increased 3% during that period, for a seven-day average of 1,345, according to a New York Times database.
The all-time national record for average daily cases is 251,232, set in January during a post-holiday outbreak.
Dr Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, said on Sunday that a growing body of evidence suggested Omicron caused less severe disease than its predecessors. But he cautioned against complacency, saying the lightning-speed spread of the variant across the United States would likely lead to a perilous increase in hospitalizations among the unvaccinated and could overwhelm the country’s health systems. .
âWhen you have such a high volume of new infections, it can offset a real decrease in severity,â Dr. Fauci said in an ABC interview on âThis Weekâ.
In New York City, Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency earlier this month and suspended elective surgeries at many hospitals. This week, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said he would activate up to 500 National Guard members to help in overcrowded hospitals. Many other states have done the same.
As of December 5, the number of Covid hospital admissions in children quadrupled in New York City, where the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly, the New York State Department of Health said on Friday in a report. opinion. About half were under 5 years old and not eligible for vaccination. The city did not provide figures, but state data showed a few dozen children under the age of 5 were hospitalized statewide on Thursday.
The jump in pediatric cases is also evident in other states. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported last week that Covid cases were “extremely high” among those under 18 across the country. Citing data as of December 16, the academy said cases among those under the age of 18 rose 170,000 from the previous week, an increase of almost 28% since early December. Pediatric cases are higher than ever in the Northeast and Midwest, data shows, and all parts of the country have many more cases since schools reopened for in-person instruction in the fall.
Even with the increase in cases, government data shows that vaccination is still a powerful protector against serious illness. Unvaccinated people are five times more likely to test positive and 14 times more likely to die from Covid than vaccinated patients, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Promising data from South Africa and other European countries also showed that the outbreaks of Omicron were milder and with fewer hospitalizations.
The new research is encouraging, but experts warn that the wave arriving in many countries may still flood hospitals.
âEvery place has its own demographics and its own access to the health system and, you know, the distribution of vaccines., ” Akiko Iwasaki, immunologist and researcher at the Yale School of Medicine, said in an interview on Saturday. She added that people in England, Scotland and South Africa may have acquired enough immunity to other infections to be able to cope with this variant, or that there may be some intrinsic differences in the pathogenicity of Omicron which would result in fewer people needing to be hospitalized.
“We can’t assume the same things will happen in the United States, ” Dr. said Iwasaki. “This is no reason to relax our measures here, and we still need to vaccinate those pockets of unvaccinated people. “