Monday, January 17, 2022

Omicron slows in early US hot spots, offers first hopes of a peak

The growth in new daily Covid-19 cases fueled by the Omicron version is starting to slow in some early US hot spots, including New York and Chicago, fueling some optimism that the record-breaking spike in cases could be plateauing.

Government officials are watching the data carefully and are yet to declare victory. Still, some are noting that the trend appears to follow similar trajectories as played out in South Africa and the UK, where O’Micron struck first.

“The major cities most affected by the Omicron version are slowing down,” said Enbal Shacham, an epidemiologist and associate director of the Geospatial Institute at St. Louis University. “This pattern is similar to what we saw in South Africa and what we were all expecting to see.”

Nationally, COVID-19 cases are at a never-before-seen high level. The seven-day average for newly reported cases stood at about 786,500 on Thursday, more than three times the pre-Omicron peak last winter, data from Johns Hopkins University showed. Rochelle Valensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Wednesday that the Omicron wave is expected to peak in the coming weeks.

There are already some positive signs, including a seven-day average that has eased in New York and New Jersey, and Connecticut could crest.

Hospital staff in the US are struggling to access medical facilities as a wave of Covid-19 cases bypass healthcare workers. Some hospital administrators are being forced to take the last resort to ensure quality of care. Photo: Joseph Prezioso / AFP / Getty Images

In New York state, the percentage of positive coronavirus tests reported by the state health department has declined every day since its most recent peak on January 2, when it stood at 23.17%. The health department said 16.3% of coronavirus tests reported on Thursday were positive, and the number of people with Covid-19 in state hospitals dropped for the second straight day to 12,207 from 12,671 on Tuesday.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state is “turning the corner on winter growth.”

“We will be at the forefront of the states in witnessing this long-awaited, much-anticipated decline,” she said at Friday’s press conference.

In Chicago, the seven-day average of new cases fell to 4,887 as of January 9, down 12% from the previous week. The seven-day average of new hospitalizations as of January 3 was 196, up 14% from the previous week, but those numbers generally lag behind the rate of cases.

“I’m a lot less worried than three, four or five days ago, where we didn’t even see any signs of flattening,” Chicago Public Health Commissioner Alison Arvadi said in a Facebook video on Thursday.

Boston Medical Center had high levels of Covid-19 hospitalizations for this surge, but Chief Medical Officer David McEnany said the hospitalization rate was beginning to slow, leading the hospital to expect, many more. Like, staffing has been under strain and some others have had to take a tough call on delays in medical care.

“We think we’re pretty close to the summit,” Dr McEnany said. “Our estimate is that in the next two to three days, we will be crested, so fingers crossed on that.”

Still, officials and epidemiologists say there are reasons to be cautious. Dr. Shacham of St. Louis University said there are still large parts of the country where Omicron attacked later and may not be prepared for the wave to come. He added that hospitalizations are likely to occur in some cities where the health system is already stretched to capacity or more.

The US has yet to see how many deaths will come from Omicron, as reports of deaths usually take weeks of infection. Data from Johns Hopkins shows the US recently reported an average of 1,670 new daily deaths, down from an average of 3,000 a day a year ago. Recent holiday-related reporting disruptions have made it difficult to determine the death rate.

There are indications that this variant causes milder disease than the earlier variant, but it is infecting so many people that the influx of cases is still a major problem for the health system.

The seven-day average for people hospitalized with confirmed and suspected COVID-19 in the US topped 151,000 on Friday, the highest recorded level, data from the US Department of Health and Human Services showed. The boom is putting significant pressure on already strained facilities, especially as they manage widespread infections among their employees.

On Saturday, New York state asked hospitals in three upstate areas to suspend elective procedures to increase bed capacity. The US Department of Defense has also deployed military medical teams to hospitals in Buffalo and Syracuse, Ms Hochul’s office said, and additional teams will begin operating in the Bronx and Brooklyn later this month.

At Jacobi Medical Center, a public hospital in the Bronx, at one point this week 40 patients were waiting to be admitted to the emergency department, ER nurse Kelly Cabrera said Thursday.

“The current crisis with Covid is just adding more tension,” Ms Cabrera said. “I want to be optimistic too. But the reality is that our healthcare system was never designed for this.”

improvement and amplification
A map in an earlier version of this article showing new COVID-19 cases and deaths in the US contained incorrect data on new deaths in Florida. The map has been removed from the article. (Corrected January 14.)

Write Joe Barrett at joseph.barrett@wsj.com, John Kamp at jon.kamp@wsj.com and Jimmy Wilkind at Jimmy.Vielkind@wsj.com

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