Hospitalizations double since May as omicron BA.5 covers US

Medical staff treats coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patient Frank Clark in his room on an isolated floor of the medical block at Western Reserve Hospital in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, January 5, 2022.

Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

People are hospitalized with COVID-19 have doubled since early May as an even more transmissible sub-variant of omicron BA.5 has sparked a new wave of infections across the country, U.S. health officials said Tuesday.

But Covid deaths are still relatively low given the number of infections so far, according to officials. Dr. Ashish Jha, who is coordinating the Biden administration’s response to Covid, said deaths from the virus are not rising at the rate they once were due to the availability of vaccines and Paxlovid antiviral treatment.

“Even in the face of BA.5, the tools we have continue to work. We are in the pandemic phase where most deaths from Covid-19 are preventable,” Jah told reporters on Tuesday during a pandemic update. But he said the death toll is still unacceptably high given the fact that the US has vaccines and treatments to prevent the worst.

More than 16,600 Covid patients were hospitalized in the US as of Saturday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are now an average of more than 5,000 people hospitalized with Covid each day, compared with more than 2,000 daily hospitalizations in the week ended May 1, according to the CDC.

The U.S. is now averaging nearly 104,000 Covid infections per day as of Sunday, almost double the number of reported cases in early May, according to the data. White House Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said reported infections are clearly underreported because many people use home tests that are not reflected in the data. Fauci said the real number of cases could be between 300,000 and 500,000 new infections per day.

The death toll from the virus has remained relatively low, averaging about 280 deaths per day as of Sunday, according to the CDC. At the height of the winter omicron wave, Covid was averaging about 2,700 deaths a day.

“The ratio of hospitalizations, intensive care units and deaths to the number of cases is now much lower than it was many months ago,” Fauci said.

Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 now account for 80% of Covid infections in the US, with BA.5 becoming the dominant version of the virus. Fauci said BA.5 is more contagious than past variants and largely evades vaccine-induced protective antibodies, but vaccines still generally protect against severe disease. In other words, people who are fully vaccinated may become infected and have mild to moderate symptoms, but they are unlikely to be hospitalized and even more unlikely to die from Covid.

Fauci said BA.5 does not appear to carry a large risk of severe disease compared to other omicron sub-options. But as the number of cases increases due to greater contagiousness, some people will end up in the hospital or intensive care unit, he said.

People who have become infected with the previous omicron variants, BA.1 and BA.2, are most likely still at risk for BA.4 and BA.5 infection, according to the doctor. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC. Walensky said the current wave of omicrons is likely to play out differently across the country depending on how much immunity communities have from vaccination, booster vaccination and prior exposure.

Jah urged all Americans to stay up to date on their vaccinations and said that people aged 50 and over should get their fourth dose. He also said that people who test positive should consult with their healthcare provider about taking Paxlovid, Pfizer’s oral antiviral treatment. People should also consider getting tested for Covid before attending any large indoor events or visiting people at high risk, such as those with weak immune systems.

The Biden administration is also debating whether the wider population should be eligible for a second booster shot, though that decision ultimately rests with the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC, Jha said. The FDA told vaccine makers last month to reformulate their vaccines to target the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, as well as the original strain of the virus that first emerged in Wuhan, China, ahead of a possible fall booster campaign.

US health officials are concerned the country will face another major spike in infections this fall as vaccine immunity wanes and people spend more time indoors to avoid colder weather. Jha said the US placed one order with pfizer per 105 million doses of the updated vaccine. The US is also in talks with other companies about additional shots, he said.

“Obviously it won’t be enough for all Americans,” said Jha, who has repeatedly warned that the US may have to limit vaccines to those who face the highest risk of contracting the virus this fall unless Congress approves additional funding for the pandemic. response.

Negotiations for a Covid funding package stalled for months amid Republican opposition to the White House’s $22.5 billion original price tag. The Senate has struck a bipartisan $10 billion deal to buy vaccines and treatments, but the package has stalled as GOP lawmakers and some Democrats demand that the Biden administration re-enact a pandemic-era public health law that deported asylum seekers and other migrants trying to cross the border. US-Mexico border.

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