The paradox of Omicron, which now accounts for an estimated 98.3% of all US coronavirus cases, is that while Delta and previous variants are likely to have significantly milder outcomes, the health system is as stressed as ever.
Public health officials are warning that Omicron is threatening to overwhelm medical infrastructure in huge numbers, and hospitals are overcrowded with seriously ill patients.
“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” said Dean Blumberg, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at the University of California, Davis.
Here’s what we know about why this is happening:
Is Omicron More Contagious
The variant appears to be about two to five times more permeable than Delta, which previously dominated US cases.
Sarah Murray, director of the health informatics data science and innovation team and an associate professor of clinical and hospital medicine at the University of California San Francisco, said, “It is now the second most infectious disease in the world, second only to measles. ” ,
CDC Director Rochelle Valensky said Wednesday, “While we are seeing early evidence that Omicron is less severe than Delta and that infected people are less likely to be hospitalized, it is important to note that Omicron is much more contagious.” Is.”
This means that even though a small percentage of patients infected with Omicron require hospitalization, the total number of COVID cases is so high that hospitals are seeing more of those patients than at any point in the pandemic. Huh.
COVID-19 cases have hit record highs in the US, with an average of 1.4 million new cases a day, which is a low number. According to the CDC, an average of 19,800 people are hospitalized with COVID daily across the country, a 33% increase over the past week. About a third of intensive care unit beds across the country are now full of COVID patients, meaning that about 1 out of every 2.5 people in the country’s ICU wards have the virus.
More patients being admitted with “Covid”
COVID is so widespread right now that a significant percentage of hospitalized patients are admitted for something else but then test positive upon screening upon admission.
“We test a lot of asymptomatic patients in preparation for procedures or surgeries, planned hospitalizations – and even among those who are completely asymptomatic, we are seeing positivity of about 12% right now. are,” said Murray.
“It’s a very different scenario that we’re seeing with hospital overcrowding than we’ve seen with prior waves of COVID-19,” said Rachel Charles, an infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “About half of these cases are in hospital for non-COVID related illnesses.”
At UCSF, Murray said overall two-thirds of his COVID patients were hospitalized for the disease, while a third were hospitalized. With This. Among pediatric COVID patients, about half of them were admitted for something other than the disease.
Yet even if these patients have mild or non-existent COVID symptoms, their positive status puts an additional burden on the hospital as they require isolation and additional safety protocols for hospital staff.
Staff shortages from exposure and burnout
Akin Demehein, policy director of the American Hospital Association, said doctors, nurses and other health workers are more contagiously infected with the increasing number of cases, which leads to more successful infections among vaccinated people than the previous ones. . Even with mild infections, those health workers are still out of action for a week after their tests turn negative, according to CDC policy, as a boom fills hospitals and drives demand for staff.
The Omicron boom will only put more stress on doctors and nurses, who still have to care for all those extra patients. A survey last August reported that nearly 60% of doctors feel the burn, Demehain said, and that was two surges ago. “We hear it from hospital leaders all the time – their number one, two and three priority right now is the workforce,” he said. “They know how much has been asked of healthcare providers over the past almost two years.”
more young children
“This time around, we’re looking at more kids under the age of 5,” Blumberg said.
They have observed that many of them have milder cases of bronchitis or croup, while teenagers with COVID seen in earlier surges had more severe pneumonia. Most of these young children recover, but he cautioned that with any infection and hospitalization, “some children are not doing well.”
According to the CDC, the number of hospitalizations among young children is currently higher than during the pandemic.
Vaccines still work, but boosters are important
One thing that the micron growth hasn’t changed is the well-established reality that vaccines significantly improve people’s odds of not dying from COVID-19. According to the CDC, deaths are still rising, with an average of 1,600 per day in the US, a 40% increase over the previous week. (Walensky said at the White House briefing that he thinks most of them are Delta type cases.)
“Almost everyone is likely to be exposed and infected,” Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Omicron on Wednesday. If given, your chances of getting sick are very low.”
“In my hospital, we have a graphic that is sent out every day that has very few people, who are in ICU, who are on ventilator, and who are admitted for COVID. And the vast majority, overwhelmingly, are unaffiliated people in all three categories, said Jean Marrazzo, director of the division of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, who spoke at an Infectious Diseases Society of America briefing Tuesday. On Omicron for journalists.
“What we’ve learned with Omicron is that the booster really makes a huge difference in terms of reducing your risk,” Murray said. His hospital is seeing both vaccinated and unvaccinated patients hospitalized for COVID. But even patients who only had the initial series of vaccines — no boosters — are protected from the most dire consequences.
“What we are not seeing is that patients are ending up on ventilators if they are fully vaccinated,” she said. “I don’t have a single fully vaccinated patient in the hospital right now who is on a ventilator.”