Written by Heather Hollingsworth | News agency
While all eyes are on the new and poorly understood variant of the omicron, the delta form of the coronavirus has not yet finished wreaking havoc in the United States, sending record numbers of patients to hospital in some states, particularly in the Midwest and New England.
“Omicron has a spark looming. As of midweek, 334 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of midweek,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the State Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Maine, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the State Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Here.
The United States recorded its first known infection of omicron on Wednesday, in a fully vaccinated person who had returned to California from South Africa, where the variant was first identified just over a week ago.
A second case was confirmed in the US Thursday in Minnesota, involving a vaccinated man who had attended a pre-Thanksgiving anime contest in New York City that drew an estimated 50,000 people. This may indicate that the variant is beginning to spread within the United States
But there’s a lot that isn’t known about omicron, including whether it’s more contagious than previous versions, makes people sicker, easily thwarts a vaccine or breaks the immunity people get from a bout of COVID-19.
Currently, the highly contagious delta variant accounts for nearly all cases in the United States and continues to cause misery at a time when many hospitals are experiencing a nurse shortage and a backlog of patients undergoing procedures that were postponed early in the pandemic.
The fear is that Omicron will push more patients, and possibly sicker patients, into hospitals.
“For me, it’s really fair, I can’t imagine it,” said Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, a family physician in Phoenix. “Are we going to see another increase in cases higher than what we are seeing now? What will that do to our health system? What will that do to our hospitals?”
Two years into the outbreak, COVID-19 has killed more than 780,000 Americans, and the death toll is about 900 per day.
COVID-19 cases and deaths in the United States have nearly halved since the delta peak in August and September, but at about 86,000 new infections a day, the numbers are still alarmingly high, especially as the holidays approach, when people travel and gather with family.
With the onset of cold weather pushing more people inside, hospitals are feeling the pressure.
“Deltas are not receding,” said Dr. Andre Khalil, MD, an infectious disease physician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Nebraska on Tuesday reported that 555 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 — the highest number since last December, when the vaccine launch was just beginning.
Vermont has its highest total since the start of the pandemic: 84. New Hampshire, once a leader in vaccination, is now second only to Michigan in the most new cases per capita in the past two weeks.
In Minnesota, which ranks third in most new cases per capita, the Pentagon last month sent medical teams to two major hospitals to relieve doctors and nurses swarmed by Covid-19 patients.
“This fourth wave, I can say clearly, has hit Minnesota harder than any previous wave,” said Dr. Timothy Johnson, president of the Minnesota chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians.
He said hospitals are struggling due to a combination of nurse shortages, fatigue and patients undergoing treatments that had to be postponed earlier in the crisis. “Now those chickens are back home to live a little,” he said.
The number of COVID-19 patients has doubled since September, although it remains below epidemic levels, said Kristen Hill, a spokeswoman for Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, where one of the military medical teams has been dispatched.
She said, “It is about the approach of the holidays.”
Dr. Pauline Park, who cares for critically ill patients at the University of Michigan Health in Ann Arbor, described the latest surge as “heartbreaking.” A COVID-19 patient, a woman in her twenties, died the week of Thanksgiving. Another, a mother with young children, works on a machine designed to take over her lungs.
Arizona, where students in dozens of classrooms have been forced into quarantine, reported more than 3,100 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, numbers similar to the disastrous summer of 2020. The area of hospital beds has fallen to the lowest levels of the epidemic.
Bhuyan said a patient with a blood clot in the lung was discharged from the hospital instead of being admitted. Other patients wait hours in the emergency room.
“It’s just hard because it feels like we’re going back in time, even though we have these vaccines, which are a great weapon for us,” she said.
While more than two dozen countries around the world have reported omicron infections, including India on Thursday, the numbers are small outside of South Africa, which has confirmed more than 170 cases. Global health authorities have not yet linked any deaths to Omicron.
The delta shape continues to cause deep turmoil in Europe as well, including Germany and Austria. South Korea is also seeing a delta-driven increase that has pushed hospitalizations and deaths to record levels.
On Thursday, Germany, where new COVID-19 infections topped 70,000 in a 24-hour period, barred non-immunized people from non-essential stores, cultural and entertainment sites. Lawmakers are expected to adopt a general mandate for the vaccine in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, Austria has extended its lockdown.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the measures were necessary because hospitals could be overburdened: “The situation in our country is dangerous.”