The Omicron surge is in full thrust across the country. Approximately 20% of hospitals are reportedly having so many infections that they are causing limitations in care for other illnesses. In a few hospitals that have become overwhelmed the federal government is sending troops to support beleaguered staff.
The real question is have we approached the peak of Omicron, or will it get worse?
As I mentioned last week, the pandemic wave peaked and fell rapidly in South Africa. It is now following that path just as rapidly in the United Kingdom and Ireland. However, the United States has a significantly lower percentage of the population vaccinated making it difficult to predict what will happen here based on these other countries.
One optimistic sign is that we are now beginning to see drops in infections in the Mid-Atlantic states which were some of the first affected by Omicron. New York, New Jersey, and Washington, DC are all seeing initial drops in infections. This is the strongest indication that the infections may start dropping in other parts of the country.
If the curves hold to what was seen in these states, infections should rapidly drop from these remarkably high levels over the next few weeks. February should look much better.
A word on hospitalizations. Much has been made about different groups that are being hospitalized, but in fact this wave is no different from prior waves.
Not surprisingly, most of the people being hospitalized are unvaccinated. While all age groups have had increased hospitalizations, unfortunately, as with prior waves, we are seeing most infections in the elderly and at risk individuals with predisposing illnesses.
Finally, the one bright spot remains number of deaths. While it should not be overlooked that a lot of people will die from Omicron, we are seeing four times the infections of last winter’s peak but less than 1.5 times the deaths. This is due to a less severe disease with Omicron, or better care, or the benefits of background immunity. Likely all are involved.
So the numbers are suggesting that the wave will end after a few more very difficult weeks. Let us all hope that our hospitals can then recover from this challenge.