COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are continuing to drop in the United States, U.S. health officials said on Jan. 26, though deaths attributed to the disease have been rising.
The seven-day daily average of cases is around 692,400 cases, down by about 6 percent from the previous week, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told reporters in a virtual briefing. The seven-day daily average of COVID-19 hospital admissions also dropped over the past week by about 8 percent, reaching around 19,800 per day, according to Walensky.
At the same time, the seven-day daily average of COVID-19 deaths rose by about 21 percent over the previous week, coming in at roughly 2,200 per day.
According to CDC data, the Omicron-fueled wave appears to have peaked in mid-January, with cases steadily dropping since then. Omicron is a variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19.
About 1.3 million cases were reported on Jan. 10, but no days of more than 1 million cases have been recorded since then, apart from Jan. 24, when 1.1 million were reported to the CDC. On four days between Jan. 10 and Jan. 24, less than 425,000 cases were reported.
Hospitalizations have dropped from a peak of 6.5 per 100,000 on Jan. 15 to 5.95 per 100,000 on Jan. 23, with declines among all age groups.
Omicron-fueled waves in South Africa, the UK, and other countries ended quickly after peaking, and U.S. officials have said they expected the same in the United States.
The Omicron coronavirus variant, first detected in Africa in fall 2021, is more transmissible than the Delta coronavirus variant, the previous dominant strain in the United States. Omicron can easily bypass protection from vaccines and is better at evading the protection from prior infection, but also causes less severe cases of COVID-19.
While the Omicron wave has set record numbers for hospitalizations, many cases haven’t led to hospital admissions and few have resulted in death, which experts say is in part due to the therapeutics now available and the higher coverage of both vaccination and natural immunity, which have still protected well against severe disease.
“Strikingly, when we compare the past month, when Omicron was the predominant variant, we see a clear separation between cases, hospital admissions, and deaths. And while cases have dramatically increased and are five times higher than they were during the Delta wave, hospitalizations have not increased at the same rate and deaths remain low in comparison to the case counts,” Walensky told reporters.
The ratio of hospitalizations to cases and other disease severity indicators, such as length of stay in hospitals and deaths, are lower with the Omicron variant than previous peaks, researchers with the CDC and several other institutions found in a study published on Jan. 25 in the CDC’s quasi-journal.
The study examined data from three surveillance systems and a health care database to compare metrics from before the Delta variant was dominant to when Delta was dominant and after the Omicron variant became dominant.
The findings match studies from other countries and from health systems in the United States, including Kaiser Permanente’s Southern California system.
“This is likely attributable to two key factors: First, many people in our country have some level of immunity from vaccination and boosters or from previous infection. And second, it’s likely that Omicron is less severe than prior variants,” Walensky said.
A majority of states saw case peaks earlier this month, and some have also recorded drops in hospitalizations linked to COVID-19.
Wisconsin’s numbers have peaked and Minnesota’s are due to peak soon, Mayo Clinic researchers said in a separate briefing.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the metrics haven’t reached a point where COVID-19 has stopped disrupting people’s lives, noting that thousands of deaths from the disease are still being recorded each day in recent days.
Deaths typically lag hospitalizations, which lag cases.
Fauci said a time will come when the illness “does not disrupt us in society, does not dominate our lives, does not prevent us to do the things that we generally do under normal existence,” with disease severity and other markers “[falling] within the category of what we generally accept—we don’t like it, but we accept it—with other respiratory viruses: RSV, para flu, and even influenza.”
Fauci said the only way to reach that point is to get more people vaccinated, an assertion disputed by some experts, who have noted that many unvaccinated people enjoy natural immunity, which has proven to be superior in many cases to the protection from vaccines and the growing panoply of treatment options.
“Early treatment can end this pandemic by reducing the intensity and severity of disease and reducing the chances of hospitalization and death in our highest risk seniors,” Dr. Peter McCullough, a cardiologist, told NTD in a recent interview.