The number of Americans hospitalized with Covid-19 has surpassed last winter’s peak, underscoring the severity of the threat the virus continues to pose as the extremely contagious variant of Omicron traverses the United States.
As of Sunday, 142,388 people with the virus were hospitalized nationwide, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, surpassing the single-day peak of 142,315 reported on January 14 of last year. . The seven-day average of daily hospitalizations was 132,086, an 83 percent increase from two weeks ago.
The Omicron wave has overwhelmed hospitals and depleted staff already depleted by the Delta variant. It has been driven largely by people under the age of 60. Among people 60 and older, daily admissions are still lower than last winter.
Hospitalization totals also include people who test positive for the virus incidentally after being admitted for conditions unrelated to Covid-19; there is no national data showing how many people are in that category.
About this data
Sources: state and local health agencies (cases, deaths); US Department of Health and Human Services (hospitalizations).
As cases soared in recent weeks to an average of more than 737,000 a day, much more than last winter’s peak, public health officials argued that the number of cases was of limited importance because Omicron is less virulent than Delta and other variants, and that vaccines, and especially boosters, offered protection against serious diseases.
But the sheer volume of the increase has overwhelmed hospitals across the country. And outside of cities like New York, where Omicron hit early and pushed hospitals to the brink, it’s unlikely it has peaked.
Current hospitalizations are one of the most reliable measures of pandemic severity over time, because they are not influenced by test availability or peaks in minor cases.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, told ABC News last week that it was “much more relevant to focus on hospitalizations,” which lag behind cases.
About a quarter of US hospitals are experiencing critical staffing shortages, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Some states, like Oregon, have deployed the National Guard to help. Others, like Illinois and Massachusetts, are delaying elective surgeries, that is, scheduled surgeries, as opposed to emergency ones, a category that can include procedures like a mastectomy for a cancer patient. In some cases, employees with asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic coronavirus infections have been working, which could put patients at risk.
After nearly two years, “even the most dedicated people will be tired and exhausted, if not burned out and, as a consequence, grapple with mental health issues,” said Dr. Mahshid Abir, an emergency physician at the University of Michigan who is RAND Corporation researcher.
Data in some of the first cities affected by Omicron also shows that deaths are rising sharply, not as fast as case rates, but fast enough to warn of more devastation to come.
Doctors, nurses and other medical personnel are also getting sick, and although most are vaccinated and have not needed hospitalization, their illness keeps them out of work. Now, hospitals overwhelmed by coronavirus patients are ill-equipped to handle other emergencies like heart attacks, appendicitis, and traumatic injuries.
“Demand is increasing and supply is decreasing, and that basically doesn’t paint a good picture for people and communities, not just for covid, but for everything else,” said Dr. Abir.