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 highly contagious variant of Omicron tears apart in the United States.
As of Sunday, 142,388 patients with the virus were hospitalized nationwide, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, surpassing the peak of 142,315 reported on January 14 of last year. The seven-day daily hospital average was 132,086, an 83% increase from two weeks ago.
The Omicron wave overwhelmed hospitals and exhausted staff already exhausted by the Delta variant. It was driven largely by people under the age of 60. For people over 60, daily admissions are still lower than last winter.
Hospitalization totals also include people who accidentally tested positive for the virus after being admitted for conditions unrelated to Covid-19; there is no national data indicating how many people are in this category.
As cases have skyrocketed in recent weeks to an average of more than 737,000 per day, far more than the peak last winter, public health officials have argued that the number of cases was of limited importance because Omicron is less virulent than Delta and other variants, and the vaccines, and especially the boosters, offered protection against serious disease.
But the sheer volume of the outbreak overwhelmed hospitals across the country. And outside of cities like New York City, where Omicron struck early and pushed hospitals to the brink, it’s unlikely to have peaked.
Current hospitalizations are one of the most reliable measures of the severity of the pandemic over time, as they are not influenced by the availability of tests or by spikes in minor cases.
Dr Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s foremost infectious disease expert, told ABC News last week that it was “much more relevant to focus on hospitalizations”, which delay cases.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, about a quarter of US hospitals are experiencing a critical staff shortage. Some states, like Oregon, have deployed the National Guard to help. Others, like Illinois and Massachusetts, delay elective surgeries, that is, scheduled surgeries, as opposed to an emergency, a category that may include procedures like a mastectomy for a cancer patient. . In some cases, employees with asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic coronavirus infections worked, potentially putting patients at risk.
After nearly two years, “even the most dedicated people are going to be tired and exhausted, if not exhausted and face mental health issues as a result,” said Dr. Mahshid Abir, an emergency physician at the University of Michigan and researcher at the RAND Corporation.
Doctors, nurses and other medical staff also fall ill themselves, and although the vast majority are vaccinated and did not need hospitalization, their illness still prevents them from working, reducing the workforce. when they need it most.
“The demand is increasing and the supply is decreasing, and that fundamentally does not paint a good image for people and communities, not just for Covid but for everything else,” said Dr Abir, alluding to the fact that hospitals are overwhelmed. by the coronavirus, patients are ill-equipped to handle other emergencies, from heart attacks to appendicitis to traumatic injuries.
Data in some of the early cities affected by Omicron also shows that the number of deaths is rising sharply – not as fast as case rates, but fast enough to warn of further devastation to come.
Adele Hassan and Albert Sun contributed reports.