HOSPITALIZATIONS PUSHED UP
The number of people hospitalized with the virus nationwide and those sick enough to require intensive care remain at or near record levels. In much of the West, in parts of the Midwest and in more rural areas of the country, where Omicron surges have hit later, cases and hospitalizations are still growing significantly. "The country remains far from the end of the Omicron wave," reported The New York Times on Friday.
Most of the decrease in new hospital admissions has so far been in areas that experienced Omicron outbreaks earliest. Omicron reached many metropolitan areas in the eastern half of the country before it became the dominant variant nationwide, and hospitalizations jumped quickly in the Northeast and the South before the new year. Now, hospitalizations are beginning to level off in the Northeast in particular, said the report.
Hospitalizations in the Midwest are also plateauing, but the region still has high numbers of people in intensive care. That is in part because Midwestern hospitals were already stretched thin by the Delta variant surge when Omicron arrived in early December. In Southern states, hospitalizations and ICU rates were among the lowest in the country just before Omicron, but they have sharply risen with the latest wave, it added.
"The fast-spreading Omicron variant has fueled a rise in COVID-19 cases to levels far beyond any recorded in the United States since the start of the pandemic," reported The Wall Street Journal on Friday.
A study, cited in the report, found that for every 10,000 cases of COVID-19 detected outside of a hospital, 110 of those with the Delta variant had symptoms and ended up in the hospital. For those with Omicron, only 16 were hospitalized.
But Omicron variant is estimated to be about three to five times more contagious than Delta. Consequently, the number of people infected is many times greater than during the Delta peak in late summer of 2021. So even though Omicron is less likely to result in severe disease, the sheer scale of infections means the raw number of hospitalizations now exceeds the peak number when Delta was dominant, said the study.
The study conducted by Kaiser Permanente, a California-based hospital and health-insurance company, and funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), examined nearly 70,000 COVID-19 cases in Southern California from Nov. 30 to Jan. 1. It found rates of hospitalization, admission to intensive-care units, mechanical ventilation and death were all substantially lower in patients infected with Omicron.