A wave of Omicron cases may be on the rise in the northeastern United States, but the number of Covid-19 patients is at a record high and rising, overwhelming hospitals whose staff have been eroded by coronavirus.
Public health leaders warn that while the number of Americans who become infected each day remains dangerously high, there is no guarantee that the population will build up enough natural immunity to speed up the day when the virus becomes a manageable part of daily life.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top expert on infectious diseases, was asked online Monday World Economic Forum whether it can be the year it happens. “I would hope that is the case,” he said, “but that would only be the case if we do not get another variant that evades the immune response.”
Dr. Fauci said the development of the pandemic was still impossible to map. “The answer is: we do not know,” he said.
The United States has an average of over 790,000 new daily cases, a number that includes an artificially low number on Monday, with many states not releasing new data due to Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Deaths now exceed 1,900 a day, an increase of 54 percent over the past two weeks.
Even before the holiday weekend, daily cases had peaked in New York and other northeastern states. According to a New York Times database, cases peaked in the region on November 10-11. January.
Although scientists believe that Omicron may cause less serious illness than previous variants, the large number of cases has created a tsunami of patients seeking care. Hospitals are under tremendous strain and are struggling to deal with a shortage of staff, forcing difficult decisions on whose care to prioritize.
The average number of Americans hospitalized with coronavirus is 157,000, an increase of 54 percent over two weeks. And the number may continue to rise for some time: Experts say data on deaths and hospitalizations tend to lag behind the pure case numbers by about two weeks. Admission rates include individuals who test positive for the virus after being admitted for conditions unrelated to Covid.
The Omicron rise is hitting hard on understaffed hospitals, where many workers are ill with Covid-19 and others who are holding up under pressure from the pandemic have not been replaced.
Intensive care units, in the week ending Jan. 13, averaged 82 percent filled, according to a New York Times database. In Oklahoma City, four hospitals issued one on Monday announcement said they had no ICU beds available.
Following last week’s ruling by the US Supreme Court, which approved the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for healthcare professionals, hospitals were preparing for possible resistance and more staff shortages.
And while it is too early to know how this record-breaking wave will shape the pandemic, it is bound to have some impact, said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
“Over time, the immunity of Omicron (or boosters or both) will diminish and breakthrough infections will be possible,” he wrote in a text message. ‘But we expect them to be milder. It is not ‘herd immunity’ because outbreaks will be possible. But their consequences will be much less serious. “
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