The highly infectious omicron variant has wiped out the delta strain across the United States, but the rise of the apparently milder form of Covid-19 has done nothing to relieve the strain on already overburdened hospitals.
The omicron variant accounts for approximately 98% of cases, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky. This figure is based on statistics from the week ending January 8, and it represents a huge increase from just two weeks ago when omicron accounted for 71.3% of cases.
Omicron’s increased transmissibility, combined with the immunity some have developed to combat the delta through Covid-19 vaccination and exposure, has favored the “milder” variant, according to David Wohl, a professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Institute of Global Health and Infectious Diseases. However, experts warn that infection from any Covid-19 form is a big risk for persons who have not been vaccinated or who have other health issues. They claim that if no action is taken, data will point to dark days ahead for a healthcare system that is already overburdened.
The health-care system in many parts of the United States is “collapsing under the weight of Covid patients,” according to Neil Sehgal, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. “I started to question whether or not this was the week the health care system would break.”
According to the most recent data, the omicron variant is dominating caseloads in every region of the country. While infections appear to be peaking in regions that were affected early, such as New York City, the majority of cities are still seeing infections exceed prior records, and hospitalizations skyrocket.
Some hospitals in Maryland, where Sehgal works, have switched to crisis standards of care, which means they have canceled certain elective surgeries and redistributed staff. Several other states’ hospitals, including Colorado and Oregon, have declared similar crises. According to Sehgal, the Maryland Hospital Association pleaded with the public on Tuesday with better adherence to preventative measures such as masking and pushed for vaccinations once more.
Some cities are reinstalling safety protocols in an effort to reduce the burden on local hospitals. As the number of cases increased in Utah last week, Salt Lake County health director Angela Dunn issued a county-wide mask mandate, going so far as to require respirator-type masks, such as KN95s, KN90s, or KF94s. The county stated that people in need will receive the masks at no cost.
Preserving the capacity of the healthcare system is critical, according to Sehgal.
“If we don’t act now and we don’t act decisively, it will be too late,” Sehgal said. “Today’s cases are next week’s hospitalizations.”