Omicron rise is ‘unlike anything we’ve ever seen’, says expert as US sees record high Covid-19 cases

As of Wednesday, the country has an average of 300,886 new Covid-19 cases each day, a new pandemic height, data from Johns Hopkins University shows.

The number of lives claimed by the virus also rose this week by about 18%, with an average of 1,546 deaths each day, according to the data.

In the country’s capital, Dr. James Phillips strained staff caring for patients who are mostly mildly symptomatic and trying to be tested in emergency rooms.

“It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen, even on top of the previous rises of Covid,” Phillips told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Wednesday. “What we are experiencing right now is an absolute overwhelm of the emergency departments,” in Washington, he said.

Phillips, chief of emergency medicine at George Washington University Hospital, noted that hospitals in the DC area are struggling with staffing due to Omicron.

“While many of us were able to stay safe from getting the Delta virus and the previous variants that have come our way, Omicron is affecting the staff at our hospitals in an unprecedented way,” Phillips said.

In Louisiana, Covid-19 hospital admissions have tripled in the past two weeks as it records a record number of cases, according to the state.

Dr. Catherine O’Neal, chief physician at Our Lady of Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, told CNN on Wednesday that patients at her hospital are seeking to be tested but also suffering from symptoms.

CDC changes in quarantine, isolation councils surprised local health officials

“We are seeing an increase in admissions, which is startling,” she said.

Many of the patients O’Neal sees are unvaccinated. They often have more serious illness with pneumonia and need to be intubated or need high-flow oxygen. Another group of patients who have not been given a booster or who have been partially vaccinated come in more with some sort of flu-like illness, but they are “fragile,” she said.

“They’re older, they have heart failure, they have COPD, and they can’t handle Covid even when they’re vaccinated,” O’Neal said. “Fortunately, most of those people turn around after a few days and go home, which is a good thing.”

Hospital admissions also peak in Maryland, where 2,046 people battled Covid-19 at a hospital Tuesday. The state reported 10,873 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, the highest number of new cases in a 24-hour period, according to state data.

Nationwide, nearly 78% of ICU beds are in use, and 22% of them are occupied by Covid-19 patients, according to data from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
Nearly 62% of the total U.S. population is fully vaccinated, and 33% of them have received a booster shot, data from the CDC show.
Cars are waiting in long queues at a run-up Covid-19 test center in Tropical Park, Miami on December 29, 2021.

New Year celebrations should be small this year, experts say

With the rise in Covid-19 cases, experts are urging Americans to exercise caution when celebrating the New Year.

Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, said Wednesday that people should skip big indoor New Year’s Eve this year.

December 27 news about coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant

The omicron variant of coronavirus “is extraordinarily contagious, and if you are in a crowd now, and certainly if you are unvaccinated, you are at high risk of getting that virus,” Reiner told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

He noted that a small party in a friend’s house should be okay if everyone is vaccinated and boosted and tested negative before the party. Large outdoor parties are less risky unless they are crowded.

Reiner’s remarks reflect the advice of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who earlier this week suggested that people avoid large New Year’s Eve gatherings where they do not know the guests’ vaccination status. Fauci also said small gatherings of vaccinated family or close friends are safe.

“When you talk about a New Year’s party where you have 30, 40, 50 people to celebrate, you do not know the status of the vaccination – I would strongly recommend that, stay away from it this year. There will be other years to do so, but not this year, “Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Fox News on Monday.

CDC guidance meets criticism

On Monday, the CDC shortened the recommended time that those with Covid-19 should isolate from 10 days to five if they are asymptomatic, and the agency is now defending itself against criticism of this announcement.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on Wednesday that new research, combined with some people’s reluctance to isolate themselves for 10 days if they became infected, spurred some of the latest guidelines.

CDC changes in quarantine, isolation councils surprised local health officials

“We know that the largest amount of transmission occurs in the one to two days before you develop symptoms (to) the two to three days after you develop symptoms,” she said.

“And if you map it out, those five days account for somewhere between 85% to 90% of all transmission that occurs.”

So for those who test positive but have no symptoms or diminishing symptoms on day 5, “we shortened the time to encourage people to do the right thing,” Walensky told CBS on Wednesday.

“We do not want them out when they are maximally contagious.”

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told CNN he believes the CDC is being criticized too harshly for changing the guidelines.

The CDC shortens the recommended Covid-19 isolation and quarantine period

“Everything we have to do right now is imperfect. Just accept it right now,” Osterholm said Wednesday.

“We do not know many of the things we wish we would know, but what we do know and what emerges here is that this country will be in the soup over the next few weeks with so many cases and so many places that we get to see critical infrastructure as well as healthcare challenged, “Osterholm added.

Osterholm predicts that with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, there may not be enough people healthy enough to keep hospitals, grocery stores and gas stations running. The change in the CDC guidelines is not just about helping the economy, he said: “It was to play to the safety of our everyday lives.”

CNN’s Jen Christensen and Virginia Langmaid contributed to this report.


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