The number of Americans hospitalized with Covid-19 has surpassed last winter’s peak, underscoring the severity of the threat the virus continues to pose as the extremely contagious Omicron variant tears through the United States.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Sunday, 142 388 people infected with the virus had been admitted to hospital. This is more than the peak of 142 315 reported on January 14th last year. The seven-day average number of daily hospitalizations was 132 086, an increase of 83% over two weeks ago.
Omicron has overtaken hospitals and depleted staff that were already exhausted by the Delta variant. It is largely driven by people younger than 60. Daily admissions for people over 60 are still lower than last year.
Hospitalizations also include those who test positive for the virus after being admitted for conditions not related to Covid-19. There is no national data on this category.
As cases soared over the past few weeks to an average of over 737,000 per day, far higher than last winter’s peak, public health officials have argued that caseloads were of limited significance because Omicron is less virulent than Delta and other variants, and that vaccines, and especially boosters, offered protection against severe illness.
But the surge’s sheer volume has overwhelmed hospitals across the country. It is unlikely that Omicron has reached its peak, except in New York City, which Omicron struck early and has pushed hospitals into the brink.
Because they are not affected by testing availability or spikes in minor cases, current hospitalizations are one the most reliable indicators of the severity of the pandemic.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s top infectious diseases expert, told ABC News last week that it was “much more relevant to focus on the hospitalizations,” which lag behind cases.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 25% of U.S. hospitals experience critical staffing shortages. Some states, such as Oregon, have deployed the National Guard in order to help. Others, like Illinois and Massachusetts, are delaying elective surgeries — meaning surgeries that are scheduled, as opposed to an emergency, a category that can include procedures like a mastectomy for a cancer patient. Employees with mildly or asymptomatic coronavirus infections may have been working in some cases, potentially putting patients at high risk.
After nearly two years, “even the most dedicated individuals are going to be tired and worn out, if not burned out and dealing with mental health issues as a consequence,” said Dr. Mahshid Abir, an emergency physician at the University of Michigan who is a researcher at the RAND Corporation.
Data in some of the first cities hit by Omicron also show deaths spiking sharply — not as fast as case rates, but fast enough to warn of more devastation to come.
Doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel are also becoming ill. Although most have been vaccinated and are not in need of hospitalization, their illness keeps them from working. Hospitals are now overwhelmed by coronavirus-infected patients and are ill-equipped to handle other emergencies, such as heart attacks or appendicitis.
“The demand is going up and the supply is going down, and that basically doesn’t paint a good picture for people and communities — not just for Covid, but for everything else,” Dr. Abir said.
Source: NY Times