GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) – Health care professionals have believed for weeks that the covid-19 omicron variant is less severe than the delta variant.
On Wednesday, Action 2 News is learning about new data that backs that claim. However, while the average case of omicron may be less severe, it hasn’t stopped local hospitals from filling up with covid patients.
The first case of the omicron variant was reported in the U.S. on December 1. Now it makes up 98 percent of covid cases in the country.
“We continue to learn more about omicron with each passing day, including the severity of disease caused by this variant,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a large-scale study out of California, more than 52,000 cases of omicron and nearly 17,000 cases of delta were examined.
“A preprint study from Kaiser Permanente Southern California, analyzed by academic partners with CDC collaboration and funding, provided key insight into clinical outcomes among patients infected with the Omicron variant,” said Dr. Walensky.
Researchers found those with omicron were 53 percent less likely to be hospitalized with symptoms than those with delta, 74 percent less likely to be admitted to the ICU and 91percent less likely to die.
Dr. Walensky said data also found that no omicron patients needed a ventilator and they spent less time in the hospital. “The duration of hospital stays was approximately 70 percent shorter, with the median of stays being 1.5 days for Omicron compared to about 5 days for Delta. Looking at all hospital admissions for Omicron, 90 percent of patients were expected to be discharged from the hospital in three days or less,” said Dr. Walesky.
Dr. Walensky said even though early evidence shows a lower hospitalization rate for those with the omicron variant, especially among the vaccinated, it is still more contagious than the delta variant.
“The sudden and steep rise in cases due to Omicron is resulting in unprecedented daily case counts, sickness, absenteeism, and strains on our healthcare system,” said Dr. Walensky. “The risk of hospitalization remains low, especially among people who are up to date on their COVID vaccines. However, the staggering rise in cases — over 1 million new cases each day — has led to a high number of total hospitalizations.”
In Wisconsin, Advocate Aurora Health has seen an 18 percent increase in hospitalizations since last week, up more than 80 percent from last month.
“It’s really put a big strain on our health care system to take care of so many patients,” said Dr. Robert Citronberg, Executive Medical Director of Infectious Disease and Prevention at Advocate Aurora Health. “We are starting to see a leveling off of the growth of cases in our hospitals but we’re still at a level where we are caring for many people. The numbers probably double what it was just a few weeks ago.”
While hospitals continue to operate at critically high-capacity levels with staffing shortages, Dr. Walensky said the recent study out of California could offer some guidance.
“The data in this study remained consistent with what we are seeing from Omicron in other countries, including South Africa and the UK, and provide some understanding of what we can expect over the coming weeks as cases are predicted to peak in this country,” said Dr. Walesky.
On Wednesday, the CDC also said it did not plan to change its masking recommendations to higher-grade medical masks.
“The CDC continues to recommend that any mask is better than no mask. And we do encourage all Americans to wear a well-fitting mask to protect themselves and prevent the spread of COVID-19, and that recommendation is not going to change,” said Dr. Walensky. “I’ll just note that we are preparing an update to the information on our mask website to best reflect the options that are available to people and the different levels of protection different masks provide. And we want to provide Americans the best and most updated information to choose what mask is going to be right for them.”
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