The U.S. has once again reached a negligible pandemic milestone, with more than 100,000 Americans currently hospitalized with covid-19. The increase in hospitalizations is followed by a dramatic increase in cases driven by the emergence of the Omicron variant. But there are several reasons that will make this peak of the disease different from those in the past.
From Monday, according to a tracker led by Newsnodes and BNO News, 104,737 Americans were hospitalized with covid-19, including nearly 20,000 in intensive care units. This is the first time since the beginning of September that so many people have been hospitalized and the third time in total during the pandemic. These hospitalizations do not only affect adults. Although the raw number of children hospitalized with covid-19 remains low, the rate of pediatric hospitalizations has increased recently abruptly abruptly in several states.
Deaths in the U.S. have also been on the rise since December, following a lull in the fall, with nearly 2,000 reported on Monday. But these are cases that have recently skyrocketed, with a record number achieved in the last week. Just over a million cases were reported on Monday, although many of them were attributed to a backlog of reports over the weekend and holidays. Even with this delay, the current seven-day average of cases is now approaching half a million.
The data so far are very clear that the individual case of Omicron is on average milder than the individual case of Delta. This mildness is partly due to the immunity that many people carry to the coronavirus – an immunity that may not prevent infection but can still alleviate its damage to the body. There it is too growing evidence that Omicron is inherently less likely to cause severe disease because it does not infect lung cells as easily as previous strains of the virus. The exact degree to which population immunity and Omicron behavior explains its mildness is still unclear, and for someone who lacks immunity, Omicron may be no less risky.
Many commentators have claimed that Omicron’s gentleness makes this current wave irrelevant. But, as hospitalization figures show, the country was already in a bad position before Omicron arrived. This is because many, if not most, hospitalizations this winter are not the result of Omicron. Early estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention originally predicted that Omicron had already surpassed the Delta as the dominant strain in the U.S. in mid-December. But these turned out to be wrong, and by Christmas, it was estimated that almost half of all reported cases in the country were still caused by the Delta.
The average time to hospitalization after infection is about a a week or so, and may take some time another week or longer to get people to recover. So many people now or recently in the hospital first became infected and ill weeks earlier, when the Delta was still predominant, while newly hospitalized people today may still have infected the Delta. The same pattern is even more true for covid-related deaths, as it can take up to a month on average that someone dies from their infection.
This context is crucial because it illustrates that the U.S. health care system is already looking at a bad winter, and Omicron has only added to the problem. This variant can obviously infect people with some previous immunity created by vaccination or a past infection. Omicron is the one responsible for the latest big increase in cases. These are such cases currently flooded emergency services and emergency centers in some areas, and it is outbreaks of Omicron that now plague people en masse, leading to staff shortages and other disruptions.
The experiences of South Africa, Denmark and the United Kingdom – some of the first countries to face Omicron – show that Omicron waves leave behind less severe diseases than past covid-19 crashes. But the U.S. has gone through the pandemic throughout history worse than many of its contemporaries, for a variety of reasons. This summer, for example, the country’s mediocre vaccination rate has contributed to that higher number of deaths he faced it in relation to other highly vaccinated countries during their corresponding Delta-led peaks.
There are early American data showing that Omicron cases in hospital are less likely to require ICUs, reflecting reports from South Africa. And data still show that people are much less likely to be vaccinated, especially those who are stimulated hospitalized of any strain covid-19. This means that most of the country is not in serious danger from Omicron.
But at the big picture level, covid-19 still has major negative impacts on our health and other aspects of society. And a large increase in cases caused by Omicron this winter can annul, at least in part, the milder the advantage. The question also arises as to how many people who receive Omicron will develop chronic symptoms and whether its mildness and / or existing immunity will reduce the risk of long-term covid.
This wave of pandemic could crash on our shores with less impact than before, but that doesn’t mean it won’t leave devastation behind.