In another bleak moment of the pandemic in the United States – with nearly 800,000 new cases a day, deaths soaring and federal medical teams stationed in overwhelmed hospitals – glimmers of progress are finally beginning to emerge. In some places that saw an increase in Omicron variants over the past month, reports of new coronavirus infections have stopped or decreased.
Daily case reports are falling sharply around Cleveland, Newark and Washington, D.C., each of which has maintained record-breaking spikes over the past month. Chicago, New York, Puerto Rico and hard-hit ski resort cities in Colorado also had early signs that cases were hitting a plateau or starting to drop.
The slow pace of spread in those places was welcome news, raising the possibility that a national peak in the Omicron wave could be coming. But most of the country is seeing an explosive rise in virus cases, with some western and southern states registering a 400 per cent increase in the past two weeks. Officials also warned that hospitalizations and deaths lag behind actual infections, meaning that even in places where new cases have begun to decline, it is still weeks before the full impact of Omicron is known. Will take
“We are far from being out of the woods,” said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health, who told reporters that he was encouraged by the early signs of a slowdown in parts of his state. But he warned: “ If we’ve learned one thing about COVID, it’s that it’s exceptionally unpredictable. And things can change dramatically and quickly.”
It was just seven weeks ago that scientists in South Africa alerted the world to the fast-spreading Omicron variant, and just over a month ago, the version started gaining ground in the United States. As cases rise to record levels for days, scientists have found that omicrons cause less severe illness in many people than prior forms of the virus, and that vaccines, although less protective against infection, are less severe. continue to provide a strong defense against disease and death.
Still, the speed and scale of the Omicron boom has disrupted American life and taxed a health care system that was already hit by an autumn uptick driven by Delta Edition. Across the country, more than 1,800 deaths are being announced every day, a nearly 50 percent increase over the past two weeks. Colleges and some school districts have returned to online instruction, bus routes have been disrupted after drivers tested positive and the health care system is struggling with a surge in cases among staff.
In Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers said Thursday that National Guard members will train as nursing assistants and then be posted to low-staff nursing homes. In Omaha, where the Nebraska attorney general sued the county health director over a new mask mandate, a major hospital said it was activating a crisis plan that would limit appointments and reschedule surgeries due to the rising caseload. And at a small hospital in Canton, SD, officials said, four of the eight nurses who usually treat patients on the floor were out with the virus at one point last week.
“What we’re doing right now is really doing everything we can to avoid a workforce shortage,” said Dr. Jeremy Cowells, chief physician at Sanford Health in the Upper Midwest, where the hospital system has more than 400 are employees. Were off work this week with the virus.
Christina Ramirez, a biostatistician at the University of California, Los Angeles, said it was too early to tell when the United States was at its peak. He said Omicron passed through South Africa and peaked in about a month, but countries like Denmark and Germany look like “jagged sawdust”. “You get some days where it goes down, back up and back down.”
Dr. Ramirez said, “We have been fooled by the virus before.” “The next few weeks are going to tell a lot.”
Even as new cases were being seen at a slow pace in some cities, reports of infections were rising rapidly across the country. Around 150,000 people with the virus are hospitalized across the country, more than at any previous point in the pandemic. That data includes patients who were hospitalized for other reasons and tested positive for COVID-19.
At times during the pandemic, cases continued to rise for some time before falling again due to a surge driven by new forms. Scientists suggest that both biology and behavior help drive that pattern. When cases rise, people may become more alert, and as more people get infected, the virus will have more trouble finding susceptible hosts. Because the omicron spreads so rapidly, this cycle may be faster than the earlier surge.
Experts’ complex understanding of the trajectory of the omicron boom in the United States has led to questions about the reporting of new cases. People have turned to home tests to confirm their infections, and many of them are not counted in official figures. But the case trend line, which showed rapid growth almost everywhere in the country as recently as a week ago, remains helpful in underlining the broader pattern.
In Chicago, the public health commissioner, Dr. Allison Arvadi, said on Thursday she was “much less concerned” about the city’s outlook than it was three, four, five days ago. With cases rising to record levels in Chicago, a labor dispute between City Hall and the teachers union led to the cancellation of classes for a week. As of Thursday, with school back in session, there were signs that the level of new cases reported and test positivity could dip, even as hospitalizations continued.
“It’s still too early in terms of being able to say unequivocally that this is the peak, we are on the way,” Dr Arvadi said. “But I think we’re definitely seeing some signs of leveling off in a number of different metrics.”
New York City has reported an average of about 38,000 new infections over the past week, a drop slightly lower in recent days, but still close to the pandemic’s highest rate. New York Governor Kathy Hochul said this week that “it looks like we’re climbing that peak,” but that transmission remained high.
At University Hospital in Newark, the number of Covid patients has remained stable at around 150 for the past five days. The hospital’s president and chief executive Dr. Sharif Elnahal said he expects the number of hospitalizations to increase sharply since the end of December.
“With all the warnings, God willing, a knock on the wood, we are starting to see a plateau in the daily hospital,” Dr. Elnahl said.
Those trends are more pronounced in some other cities. In San Juan, PR, there has been a 17 percent drop in new cases reported in the past two weeks. In the county that includes Cleveland, reports of new cases dropped by 49 percent in two weeks. Washington, DC, is reporting an average of 1,700 new cases a day, down from a peak of more than 2,100 in early January.
Lynn Goldman, dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, said, “I believe this is a real level, though still with terrifying rates of transmission.”
The slow pace of cases in some places did not ease the immediate crisis in many hospitals in the country. President Biden said on Thursday he was sending 120 additional military medical personnel to six states — Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island — where hospitals were overrun.
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Mr Biden also said he was instructing his employees to buy an additional 500 million at-home coronavirus tests for distribution to Americans, doubling the government’s previous purchases. It remained unclear when the first of those tests would be available.
Omicrons began to rise ahead of Christmas in urban centers in the eastern part of the country, including many places where daily caseloads have recently begun to fall. But much of the United States, especially rural parts of the West and South and Midwest, didn’t see a similar increase until around the New Year. In those areas, daily cases continue to rise sharply.
In Oregon and Utah, reports of new cases have increased by more than 450 percent in the past two weeks. Los Angeles County, Calif., averages about 40,000 cases a day, up from 25,000 a week ago and 5,500 before Christmas. Arkansas, which averaged less than 1,000 cases the day before Christmas, is now reporting more than 7,000 a day. In Louisiana, cases and hospitalizations have increased by more than 200 percent in the past two weeks.
“It’s not forever,” said Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana. “At some point, we’re going to peak in this surge like before and we’ll start coming down the other side, but clearly we’re not there yet.”
Whenever the Omicron wave finally backs down, it is uncertain how much protection the nation can hold against future outbreaks – whether it will be smaller and sporadic or more widespread surges.
“I think it’s a million-dollar question,” said Bertha Hidalgo, an epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “I hope we don’t see a new form of anxiety early on and that the immunity we build for Omicron is long-lasting.”
Dr Hidalgo said evidence from earlier forms suggests that immunity to natural infection only lasts so long.
Across the country, officials in places with an optimistic glimpse into their data were taking a cautious approach to interpreting those numbers.
The director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, said on Wednesday that it was “too early to tell” whether the worst of O’Miron has been in her state. There was a slight drop in hospitalizations across the state in a recent day, but it was not clear if this would become a trend.
“You really want to see a steady decline,” Dr. Ezik said. “I will be the first to announce it when we can say very confidently. Crossing my fingers and toes, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.”
Michael D. Shearer And Tracy Tully Contributed to reporting.