As the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread across the US this holiday season, the rate of daily Covid-19 cases detected has eclipsed those fueled by the Delta variant over the summer.
Covid-19 hospitalizations remain relatively lower than peaks earlier this year, yet the situation may worsen as tens of millions of Americans remain unvaccinated, putting them at higher risk for complications and death.
Health and government officials have been warning that the Omicron variant threatens to overwhelm hospitals and health care workers.
“Although hospitalizations may be less, that doesn’t mean zero. There are many places in the country where hospitalizations now are increasing,” Dr. William Schaffner, a professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said.
More than 69,000 Americans were hospitalized with Covid-19 on Christmas Eve, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services. An increase of around 2% from last week, the figure remains below peak hospitalizations during the Delta surge and is half of the record-high from January.
But experts note that hospitalization figures tend to lag with time as some illnesses worsen, and researchers are still working to determine whether Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness.
Twelve states have seen at least a 10% uptick in Covid-19 hospitalizations over the past week compared to the previous, HHS data shows. That’s happening against the backdrop of a 48% increase in Covid-19 cases from last week, bringing the US average for new daily cases to 182,682, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Case numbers surpassing the summer surge is a sobering indication of Omicron’s spread, as it quickly became the most prevalent variant in the US this week.
And as Covid-19 testing shortages led to long lines in many metro areas before Christmas, some pockets of the country are reporting surges.
Covid-19 cases in Los Angeles County have nearly tripled in the last week, reaching 9,998 new cases for its about 10 million residents, public health data shows. Hospitalizations, however, have remained steady.
New York State broke its own daily record of Covid-19 cases on Friday, when it reported 44,431 new cases — a 14% increase from Thursday.
“This is not a surprise,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said. “This is a very, very contagious variant.”
Hospitalizations in the state are also rising — but at a lower rate. Friday data showed that 4,744 New Yorkers were receiving Covid-19 treatment at hospitals, marking an uptick of 4.6% from Thursday.