Over the weekend the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in California rose to levels not seen in months as the rapid spread of the Omicron variant caused major airline disruptions and sent people to testing sites.
Officials said they expect Omicron’s spread to worsen in the coming weeks, with President Biden promising the federal government it will do everything possible to assist states facing a surge in coronavirus cases. Biden acknowledged those who faced long waits for tests while on leave and said his administration was trying to play down the issue.
“Seeing how hard it was for people to get tested this weekend shows that we have more work to do,” Biden said. And we’re doing it.
There were 4,001 coronavirus patients hospitalized on Sunday – California’s highest single-day spike since October 9 and a nearly 14% increase from the previous week.
Some areas are grappling with even faster surges. Los Angeles County has seen a 30% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations since last week. In Orange County, the number of patients has increased by about 45% during the same period.
Overall, the greater Southern California and Sacramento areas reported a 20% increase in hospitalizations during the same period, while the San Francisco Bay Area reported a 13% increase.
Officials and experts have long noted that hospitalizations are an indicator of the spread of the coronavirus, which usually peaks about two weeks after a surge in infections.
That’s a potentially worrying trend, given that California is grappling with a significant new spike, which officials say is driven by the circulation of the Omicron version, perhaps the most heavily mutated and highly transmissible version of the coronavirus.
During the past week, California reported an average of 11,914 new coronavirus cases per day, up 73% from two weeks ago, according to data compiled by The Times.
The surge has been particularly profound in Los Angeles County, which announced more than 20,000 combined new cases on Saturday and Sunday — an eye-popping total that officials say is actually an undercount due to the reporting lag over the Christmas weekend.
Health officials in the country’s most populous county reported 7,425 new cases on Monday. He said that this is also a low number.
The combination of coronavirus-related illness and bad weather among airline crew brought another day of headaches at airports. On Monday, more than 1,070 flights were canceled in or outside the US and more than 2,710 flights were grounded for the day, according to FlightAware. This is a slight improvement over the previous day, when there were 1,517 cancellations nationally and 3,274 globally.
It remains to be seen how many recently infected Californians will fall ill enough to require professional care. There is promising data that Omicron may cause less-severe symptoms than the delta version, the culprit behind last summer’s coronavirus surge.
But this may not be enough to protect health care systems from spreading to their limits, especially in areas where vaccination rates are low.
According to President Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, there is increasing evidence that people who have received their booster shot but still become infected usually have no or mild symptoms. Huh.
But Fauci, speaking during an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” said he is concerned about serious illness among unrelated people.
Nationwide, just under 62% of Americans are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In California, the figure is slightly higher at 67%.
However, this vaccination coverage leaves out millions of people who can still easily fall prey to the coronavirus.
“We still haven’t vaccinated millions of people, and we’re seeing hospitalizations,” Biden said during a briefing call with state governors on Monday. “This means that in some places our hospitals are going to be ahead, both in terms of equipment and staff.”
State data shows that from December 2-8 — after Omicron was first detected in the state — unvaccinated Californians were nearly eight times more likely to be infected.
In the week-long period ending December 11, unvaccinated people in L.A. County were 23 times more likely to be infected than those who were vaccinated, officials said.
In addition to the potential for serious illness, officials also note that every new infection gives the coronavirus another chance to develop, potentially in ways that allow it to spread more easily or evade the protective power of vaccines. Is.
Orange County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Regina Chincio-Kwong said, “The reason we all want to reduce transmission, even if it is a mild illness, is that every time this virus infects a person, it is transmitted. get a chance to mutate.”
Fauci said the Omicron boom is likely to get worse before it gets better.
While cases are declining in South Africa, where Omicron was first detected, they are still rising in the UK – reflecting trends in hospitals in the US and UK generally.
“In other words, what happens there usually happens after two to three weeks here,” Fauci said. “The way it is progressing now – it will get worse before it gets better. We don’t expect things to change in a few days to a week. It is likely to take longer than that, but it is unpredictable.”
Fauci said medical officials in South Africa are also reporting more hospitalizations among children infected with the coronavirus, echoing figures out of New York, which is seeing a boom in pediatric hospitals, mostly children. In those who are not fully vaccinated.
He said, “That’s why we say … if you have a child who is 5 to 11 years old, please get that child vaccinated so they don’t get any such thing as a serious illness.”
New York City has seen new pediatric hospitalizations in recent weeks, data released Monday by New York’s Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett showed. From December 5-11, 22 pediatric COVID hospitalizations were reported; For the partial week of December 19-23, there were 109.
Earlier data released on Friday showed that all children aged 5 to 11 who were hospitalized and three-quarters of children aged 12 to 17 were not fully vaccinated. Half of children admitted to hospitals are under the age of 5 and ineligible for vaccination.
In New York, 27% of children ages 5 to 11 have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 16% have received two doses. Those numbers are similar to those in California, which are 25% and 16%, respectively.
“Many people keep thinking that children do not get infected with COVID. it is not true. Children become infected, and some will be hospitalized,” Bassett said at a briefing on Monday. “We need to increase the vaccination of children. We need them to get more from them, especially in the age group of 5 to 11 years.”
Meanwhile, US health officials on Monday cut isolation restrictions for Americans infected with the coronavirus from 10 to five days, and similarly shortened the time that close contacts of infected people are required to quarantine.
The CDC said the guidance is in keeping with mounting evidence that people who catch the coronavirus develop symptoms two days before and three days after, if any.
Times staff writers Anumita Kaur in Washington and Leela Seidman and Hugo Martin in Los Angeles and the Associated Press contributed to this report.