Less than six weeks after global health officials warned of an omicron variant of the coronavirus, the United States is reporting a record number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations for children, with some schools returning to virtual learning and missing tests.
“The coming weeks will be difficult,” President Joe Biden admitted in a public address on Tuesday before he and Vice President Kamala Harris met with the White House COVID-19 working group.
Omicron said, “It’s very different from what we’ve seen before,” and Biden called on all Americans to be vaccinated and strengthened and to wear a face mask in public.
“If you’re vaccinated and vaccinated, you’re highly protected. Don’t worry about Omicron, but don’t panic. If you’re not vaccinated, you have reason to worry,” Biden said. “Some die, unnecessarily die.”
FACT INVESTIGATION:The omicron coronavirus variant is not a common cold
An analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University shows that 3.36 million new cases were recorded in the week ending Monday. That’s almost five times what the country reported in the week ending Nov. 23, before the world knew about the so-called omicron option.
Bruce Walker, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Ragon Institute at Harvard University’s Massachusetts General Hospital, said, “The bottom line is that omicrons visit every city and town in the country and report its existence.” Tuesday briefing.
On Monday alone, more than 1 million new cases were reported in the U.S., and 26 states reported record cases. The bill is being artificially increased as work on the New Year holidays lags behind. However, the numbers do not take into account the results of rapid tests performed at home to detect coronavirus.
The increase in infections has filled hospitals and led to staff shortages, which has increased air traffic and prompted several school districts to extend winter holidays, cancel classes or switch to virtual reading. Experts say the worst is yet to come.
Jacob Lemieux, an infectious disease doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital, said the epidemic was “an omicron pandemic at this stage.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday that Omicron accounts for more than 95% of new COVID-19 cases.
“I think it’s hard to say how long it will last, but the next few weeks will be bad,” Lemieux said. “If people can bend for three weeks, they should.”
News of a potentially problematic option in South Africa began to circulate in November, and the World Health Organization declared the omicro the “worry option” the day after Thanksgiving. According to Johns Hopkins University, the situation in South Africa peaked in mid-December and has been steadily declining since then.
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Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, said the trajectory of the omicro in South Africa could mean a short wave in the United States.
“If we can extrapolate from the South African experience, I think the omicron wave conditions in the U.S. will start to decline by mid-to-late January and then decrease rapidly,” Gandhi said.
Studies show that the omicron variant is softer than previous options. But the more people get sick, the more people get seriously ill. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, hospitals received about 46.5% more COVID-19 patients in the past week than the previous week.
As of Monday, more than 100,000 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in the U.S. – the most since the beginning of September, when the delta variant peaked in the south. Approximately 78% of the intensive care unit beds were occupied and 19,000 patients were in COVID-19 ICU beds.
Biden said his administration has sent “hundreds of military doctors and nurses” over the past two weeks to help hospitals that are “overcrowded and overworked due to unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.” He said he had ordered the Federal Agency for Emergency Management to provide hospital beds “when and where needed.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared a 30-day state of emergency on Tuesday and mobilized 1,000 National Guard troops to help health workers.
“The reality is that the next four to six weeks will be the hardest of the whole pandemic,” Hogan said at a news conference. “All the emergency measures we are taking today are to prevent our hospitals from overcrowding, to keep our children in school and to keep Maryland open for business, and we will continue to take all necessary measures in those very difficult days and weeks.”
Hospitalization is increasing, especially among children with COVID-19. The CDC reported on Thursday that an average of 378 children aged 17 and under were hospitalized per day during the week of December 22-28, up 66 percent from the previous week.
About 70 children were hospitalized with COVID-19 at the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, the country’s largest pediatric hospital, on Monday. A week ago, the hospital had 30 patients with COVID-19 and 15 patients the previous week, said spokeswoman Natasha Barrett.
“Over the weekend, we broke previous records we set during the delta ascent,” Dr. Jim Versalovich, who runs the hospital’s COVID-19 command center, said in a Zoom call.
According to Versalovich, most patients with COVID-19 are not vaccinated. He said COVID-19 is present in most children as a “major factor” or “significant contributing factor” to hospitalization.
COVID-19 MAP: Tracking U.S. cases and deaths
In Illinois, hospitalizations for children with COVID-19 have nearly tripled since early December, Gov. JB Pritsker told a news conference Monday. The ICU beds available in some parts of the state are single-digit, he said. He said unvaccinated patients fill 95 percent of ICU beds and “almost 100 percent” of ventilators.
“After two years of pandemics – with so many common, free life-saving vaccines – it’s very sad and tragic that we’re in this horrible situation again,” he said. “Even though the holidays are still a week or two in the back mirror, I’m afraid the rise will continue because they were incubated in people infected with the virus in late December.”
According to the CDC, nearly 73 percent of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated and more than a third are vaccinated. Almost 66 percent of people 5 and older are fully vaccinated.
The CDC on Tuesday updated its guidelines to reduce the waiting time for people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from six to five months. On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration expanded the emergency use of the enhancing dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to include young people between the ages of 12 and 15.
The tool to combat the spread of COVID-19 remains scarce, even if the virus touches its fourth calendar year – the tests. In a pre-Christmas address, Biden acknowledged that testing the country’s capabilities was “not where we should be.”
“I know it’s going to be nervous,” Biden said Tuesday. “Believe me, it upsets me. But we’re making improvements.”
Biden said his administration has set up federal testing sites “nationwide” in the past two weeks. “When there are more opportunities for individual tests, we should see that waiting queues are reduced and more meetings are vacated,” he said.
He urges Americans to buy tests from pharmacies and online sites that are “recovering.” Starting next week, insurance companies will have to pay people for tests, Biden said.
He said local governments and health care providers are offering free tests to take away. Starting this month, Americans can request free test kits from the federal website and send them home, he said.
Contributions: Mike Stuka and Karen Weintraub,