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January 19, 2022

Omicron won't reach 'a national peak in the coming days'

Daily Briefing

While omicron-induced cases may have peaked in some of the earliest-hit states, hospitals throughout the country are still being "absolutely crushed" by the latest record surge of cases—and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warns that "we shouldn't expect a national peak in the coming days."

Omicron has not peaked nationally

In early January, many models predicted a quick omicron surge and peak. A model from the Covid-19 Scenario Modeling Hub predicted omicron's surge "to be sharp and fast." In fact, the majority of the hub's models predicted that Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations would peak at the end of January and then start to decline. 

Similarly, another model from Jeffrey Shaman, an infectious disease modeler and epidemiologist at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, projected that while the United States would see more Covid-19 cases in January than it had during any other month of the pandemic, "a smaller fraction of those cases will require hospitalization." Specifically, Shaman's projections suggested Covid-19 cases would surge quickly and peak during the first one to three weeks of January, with a "middle-of-the-cone" projection of 5 million cases during the worst weeks.

However, while cases seem to be peaking in areas of the northeast where omicron hit the earliest, Murthy on Sunday warned that the surge is not yet over. "The entire country is not moving at the same pace," he said. "The [o]micron wave started later in other parts of the country."

Currently, the United States is averaging over 790,000 new cases every day, with over 1,900 daily deaths—a 54% increase over the past two weeks, the New York Times reports.

According to data from Johns Hopkins University (JHU), the seven-day average for newly reported cases on Saturday reached almost 808,000 a day, marking the first time it has exceeded 800,000, the Wall Street Journal reports.

"We shouldn't expect a national peak in the coming days," Murthy said. "The next few weeks will be tough."

Hospitals are overwhelmed

On Sunday, HHS data recorded a seven-day average of more than 155,000 confirmed and suspected Covid-19 hospitalizations—its highest recorded level.

"That's more than we've ever had. I expect those numbers to get substantially higher," said Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. Jha said on "Fox News Sunday" that hospitalizations have likely either already peaked or will peak soon in New York, New Jersey, and parts of New England and Florida—but the rest of the country still hasn't experienced the worst of the omicron surge.

"We are being absolutely crushed," says Gabor Kelen, chair of emergency medicine at the JHU School of Medicine in Maryland.

Specifically, at least 18 states are reporting less than 15% capacity remaining in their ICU facilities, according to HHS data.

Alok Sengupta, chair of emergency medicine for hospitals in St. Louis run by Mercy, said, "All of our emergency departments in our hospitals are really getting hit much harder this time around."

As a result, patients who visit an ED "may be in a bed in the emergency department, not just for many hours, which was already very bad, but possibly even for several days," said Kelen. In fact, some patients who need to be transferred from one ED to another for a higher level of emergency care are forced to wait when an ED is too full to accept transfer patients, NPR's "Shots" reports.

"They just sit there and they die, or they have long-term ill effects related to the fact that they couldn't get the care that they needed when they needed it," said Ruth Franks Snedecor, a hospitalist in Phoenix. "And we all know with a lot of these conditions—stroke, heart attack—time is of the essence."

"What we are dealing with in the first month of 2022 is unsustainable," Snedecor added.

Casey Clements, an ED doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said despite omicron's lower overall severity, the large patient loads are worse now than in previous waves. "I think it's the most dangerous and most likely to break the system in upcoming weeks," he said. (Stone, "Shots," NPR, 1/13; Day et al., Wall Street Journal, 1/16; DePasquale et al., New York Times, 1/18; Beals, The Hill, 1/13; Imbler, New York Times, 1/16)

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  1. Current ArticleOmicron won't reach 'a national peak in the coming days'

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