As hospitals already strained by the Delta variant threaten to give in to a crush of even more contagious Omicron-infected patients, Dr Anthony S. Fauci said Americans should focus more on the threat than the winter wave is weighing on hospitals and less on the record number. of cases.
Over the past week, an average of more than 401,200 cases have been reported every day in the United States, tripling from two weeks ago and the first time the number has exceeded 400,000, according to a base New York Times data (the number of new cases is slightly depressed because fewer states report after the New Years holiday). Hospitalizations, however, rose 33%, to 92,300, while deaths fell 4% to an average of 1,249 per day.
It is not known how many hospitalizations are for patients infected with Omicron rather than the Delta variant, which scientists say is significantly more virulent. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for the week ending December 25, Omicron accounted for more than 58% of new cases compared to more than 41% for Delta.
Dr Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, noted on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” Sunday that many new infections, especially in people who have been vaccinated and stimulated, do not cause no symptoms or mild symptoms, making the absolute number of cases smaller than for previous versions of the virus.
“As you go along and the infections get less severe, it’s much more relevant to focus on hospitalizations rather than the total number of cases,” Dr Fauci said.
This advice is consistent with what many epidemiologists have said from the start. Despite the daily rate of counting cases, the number of positive tests has never been a perfect indicator of the evolution of the epidemic.
The number of cases has skyrocketed as the Omicron variant appears to be much more contagious and able to evade vaccines than other earlier variants, which has spurred more widespread testing. Additionally, the official numbers are almost certainly underestimated, as many people test positive in rapid home tests or are carriers of the virus without any symptoms.
Yet, as Dr Fauci told Mr Stephanopoulos, the concern is not so much mild or asymptomatic cases of Omicron as it is the number of people with serious or fatal infections.
“The real outcome you want to be concerned about,” he said, “are we protected by vaccines against serious illnesses leading to hospitalization? “
So far, vaccines and boosters appear to offer this protection. But the unvaccinated remain in danger.
“I am still very concerned about the tens of millions of people who are not vaccinated at all because although many of them will become asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic, a good number of them will contract serious illness,” he said. said Dr. said Fauci.
Additionally, even though Omicron is milder, as most of the evidence suggests, a higher workload means more healthcare workers who cannot work because they are positive, as well as more likely to be. people get sick enough to require medical attention.
“We have to be careful with that, because even though you have a lower severity percentage, when you have several-multi-multi-times as many people infected, the net amount is that you are still going to have a lot of people going to have need to be hospitalized, ”said Dr Fauci.
Hospitals in several states are showing signs of strain and are experiencing staff shortages.
“At the moment the main concern is the effect of Omicron on hospital staff in conjunction with fatigue and increased admissions for Covid-19 as well as other things,” said Julio Figueroa, chief of diseases. infectious diseases at Louisiana State School Health Sciences Center. .
Hawaii has requested 700 more health workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, while some St. Louis area hospitals have started restricting visitors again. Illinois officials have urged hospitals to postpone elective surgeries and procedures.
The Maryland Hospital Association said the number of inpatients had passed the state’s Covid peak last winter.
“We think the next four to six weeks are really going to be a terrible time in this crisis, and this is potentially going to be the worst part of the whole two-year fight,” Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland said on CNN. State of the Union program.