The rate of hospitalizations of Americans with COVID-19 has dropped 50% amid the new Omicron variant compared to record highs seen a year ago, new data shows.
Even though the rate of cases has has more than tripled in just a few weeks since Omicron emerged — earlier this week there were more than 1 million new cases diagnosed in a single day — just 3% of people with the virus are being admitted in hospitals, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows.
That rate is less than half the 6.5% of cases that needed hospitalization exactly a year ago, when the average daily case count was about 250,000, the data shows. Deaths from the virus are less than a third of what was recorded last January at about 1,200 per day, far fewer than the record high of 3,400 a year ago, CDC data shows.
The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 now accounts for nearly every new case of the virus blanketing the U.S., according to CDC.
The new strain represented 95.4% of sequenced COVID-19 cases during the week ending on New Year’s Day, while the once-dominant Delta variant made up just only 4.6% of sequenced cases, the CDC said.
Omicron took over in just a matter of weeks. At the beginning of December, the variant accounted for less than 1% of sequenced cases, with Delta making up 99% of them. By the week ending on Christmas Day, the CDC estimated the variant to be 58.6% of all new cases.
While data are still being studied for the fast-moving variant, some researchers say Omicron taking over could be good news.
Scientists at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban recently conducted a small study that found people infected with Omicron — and especially those who have been fully vaccinated — developed a higher immunity to Delta.
“The research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, involved 15 vaccinated and unvaccinated Omicron patients in South Africa, according to Bloomberg News, which noted that two were excluded because they didn’t detectably neutralize Omicron,” the New York Post reported. “The authors, led by Alex Sigal and Khadija Khan, found that while the neutralization of Omicron increased 14-fold over 14 days after the enrollment, there also was a 4.4-fold increase in neutralization of the Delta variant.”
Numerous studies — admittedly based on just the little data that have been collected since the variant emerged in South Africa shortly before Thanksgiving — appear to show that Omicron is far less severe than the Delta variant and does not attack the lungs as viciously.
So as the number of cases soars, the number of deaths has not. And many top scientist — including the top U.S. immunologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci — say there’s a good chance Omicron will drop off just as quickly as it rose.
“We first got inkling of that in South Africa,” Fauci told George Stephanopoulos Sunday and ABC’s “This Week.” “When one looked at the relationship and the ratio between hospitalizations and cases, it was lower, the duration of hospital stay was lower, the requirements for oxygen was lower.”
“We’re seeing a bit of that, not as pronounced, in the U.K., but certainly that trend. And if you look here at the United States, we don’t want to get complacent at all, and you don’t want to jump to a positive conclusion, because it’s still early. But given the large number of cases, we have not seen a concomitant increase in the relative percentage of hospitalizations. But, again, hospitalizations are often late, lagging indicators.”
Joseph Curl has covered politics for 35 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent, and ran the Drudge Report from 2010 to 2015. Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.