Roy Exum: Omicron Gets Worse

Wednesday, January 5, 2022 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Larry Hogan, the governor of Maryland, declared a 30-day ‘State of Emergency’ on Tuesday after seeing predictions the COVID flu could see over 5,000 people hospitalized in coming weeks in his state. The very same thing could soon happen to a state near you – 34.4 percent of corona tests in Tennessee are now coming back positive. That means one in every three tests in Tennessee is positive. There is no room to doubt the worst is yet to come.

Maryland’s tests are 48.4 percent positive, virtually one in every two. This is a state of 6 million people, and a record 82,660 new cases last week have overwhelmed its hospitals. The State of Emergency allows Governor Hogan to call out the National Guard to deploy to hospitals and emergency centers.

Tennessee’s population (6.9M) is larger than Maryland and had 41,642 new cases in the last week but with the raging omicron variant so highly contagious, the tell-tale signs are foreboding.

“With this new surge of omicron, it’s important for Marylanders to go back to using common sense and doing the things that will keep us safe: avoiding crowds, keeping your distance, washing your hands, and yes, once again, wearing the damn masks,” Governor Hogan said. He added he wouldn’t call for a statewide mask mandate because it would be too hard to enforce.

Maryland health official reported a record 3,057 persons hospitalized with COVID yesterday - an increase of 500 percent in just the last seven weeks. The Tennessee Department of Health reported 94,029 active cases as of Jan. 2 - a 152 percent increase from the week before. (The Hamilton County Health Department announced 1,014 new cases on Tuesday.)

The Tennessee count is a pandemic record for the state which eclipses 65,382 (Dec. 13-19, 2020), and the winter surge is causing graphs to spike in almost every state. As omicron spreads so quickly - a month ago we had barely heard of it - it is viciously attacking those who have chosen not to be vaccinated. There are also a good number of break-through infections (vaccinated persons), but doctors are finding the symptoms are milder.

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FROM NPR: The U.S. reported a record 1,082,549 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. It's the latest in a series of staggering milestones brought on by the highly transmissible omicron variant, which is sweeping across the U.S. and around the world.

The U.S. has broken several of its own COVID-19 records in recent days. Last week Johns Hopkins reported more than 480,000 new cases in a single day, more than double the number of daily cases reported during the peak of the delta surge. The seven-day average topped 280,000.

These are the numbers health officials are watching at this point in the pandemic

For reference: The country was averaging about 70,000 cases a day in early November.

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FROM THE WASHINGTON POST: More than 103,000 Americans were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday, according to Washington Post figures, the highest number since late summer, when the delta variant of the coronavirus triggered a nationwide surge in cases.

The figure reflects a 27 percent rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States in the past week, while the daily average of new cases during the same period more than doubled. Average daily new deaths from COVID-19 declined by eight percent.

* -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Tuesday that recipients of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine get booster doses five months after their second shots, shortening the interval by one month.

* -- A fourth dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine generated a five-fold jump in antibodies a week after the shot, according to preliminary results of a study released Tuesday by the Israeli government.

* -- More than 826,000 people have died from coronavirus in the U.S., and more than 57,078,000 cases have been reported.

* -- Per 100K, there has been a 110 percent rise in new cases during the last seven days in the U.S. with 147. Tennessee is 138 percent in the last week per 100K

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FROM NBC-NEW YORK:  As COVID-19 infections with the omicron variant of the virus surge out of control nationwide, emergency rooms are filling up again - and one well-known New York City doctor says what they're seeing now is much different than the last two years of the pandemic.

Manhattan emergency room physician Dr. Craig Spencer took to Twitter late Monday night to explain how the current surge is different - both in who's coming to the ER and how they're being affected by the highly contagious virus.

"Today it seemed like everyone had COVID. Like, so many. And yes, like before, there were some really short of breath and needing oxygen. But for most, COVID seemed to topple a delicate balance of an underlying illness. It’s making people really sick in a different way," Spencer wrote. Spencer cited a few examples - diabetic being tipped into ketoacidosis, the elderly who were so weak from being ill that they couldn't get out of bed, etc.

"What’s also different now is those COVID cases are often in beds next to patients who’ve done everything to avoid the virus, and for whom an infection might have a dramatic toll. The cancer patient on chemotherapy. Those immuno-compromised or severely sick with something else," Spencer said.

He acknowledged, as studies around the world have concluded, that the omicron variant seems to cause milder disease than the delta variant that tore through the country last summer. But at the same time, with so many more people infected, for hospital purposes it ends up not really mattering.

"But there’s just SO much of it and it’s impacting patients in different ways. So even if just a tiny portion of cases need to stay in the hospital, it can turn into a huge influx," Spencer tweeted.

Spencer, a Manhattan ER doctor affiliated with Columbia University who became a Twitter superstar in the early days of the pandemic for his running commentary on the battle against the virus, recently shared a detailed breakdown of what the omicron cases he and his colleagues have encountered look like so far.

"Every patient I’ve seen with COVID that’s had a 3rd ‘booster’ dose has had mild symptoms. By mild I mean mostly sore throat. Lots of sore throat. Also, some fatigue, maybe some muscle pain. No difficulty breathing. No shortness of breath. All a little uncomfortable, but fine," Spencer wrote.

From there, it goes downhill, depending on your vaccination status or lack thereof.

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FROM NBC-NEW YORK: New York COVID hospitalizations surpassed the 10,000-mark and then some Tuesday, totaling their highest levels since early May 2020 as new estimates released by the CDC estimate omicron's regional prevalence to be as high as 99 percent.

The variant's estimated share of current U.S. COVID-19 cases is at least 92 percent or higher, according to the federal health agency. Both reflect sharp increases over last week, especially at the national level, and come as New York and America battle record-shattering caseloads almost daily along with soaring virus hospitalizations.

The data are almost hard to fathom. More than one in five New York tests are coming back positive these days, and that number is expected to bounce up considerably Wednesday after Governor Kathy Hochul said holiday weekend reporting lags were likely behind "misleading" daily case counts in the 51,000-53,000 range over the last two days after nearing a record 90,000 on the first day of the new year.

There's nothing misleading about the skyrocketing statewide hospitalization numbers, however. Statewide hospitalizations stood at 10,411 as of Tuesday, the highest total since April 30, 2020, when the total was 10,993. The level of increase over the last two days alone (1,638), for comparative purposes, is just 238 admissions shy of the total hospitalized statewide exactly three months ago.

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