“Hold on and hope the worst is over soon” is not “I’m going to kill the virus.” On the plus side, previous waves haven’t been as lethal due to immunizations, boosters, and natural immunity. But we’re still in for a tough few weeks. According to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services, the number of hospital beds in use, and the percentage of those used by COVID-19 patients, is steadily increasing.
On December 27, only 10% of the nation’s hospital beds were occupied by patients with COVID-19. This morning, 78.8% of the nation’s hospital beds were occupied, with 16.8% of those patients treated for COVID-19. After Christmas, over 75% of the nation’s ICU beds were occupied, and over 21% of those patients had COVID-19. This morning, 81.8% of ICU beds were occupied, and 27.4% of those patients had COVID-19.
Is this it? We may be close. According to the New York Times, on January 3, the US reported over 1 million new cases. On January 4, it topped 885,000. It was 704,000 yesterday. (Monday’s figure may include weekend results.) Remember that the official case numbers don’t have sick people, get an at-home test and test positive unless they notify their doctor’s office or local health officials. The number of new and active cases is likely higher than reported. Fortunately, the cases are mild. If they weren’t, they’d be at the doctor’s or hospital, adding to the statistics.
How far away is the wave’s crest? “Our models project that the United States will document more COVID-19 cases in January than any other month of the pandemic, but a smaller fraction of those cases will require hospitalization,” writes Dr. Jeffrey Shaman in today’s New York Times. Our projections show a rapid increase in cases across the country during January’s first to three weeks. How many? Our worst-case scenario produces five million cases, but the range is from three million to over eight million. Less is more. New York City is expected to peak early in January, other cities later.
Thankfully, most Omicron infections are mild. What we’re going through now and in the coming weeks is a bad flu season. The issue is that COVID-19 can still kill the elderly, immunocompromised, or in poor health, and the odds of surviving a COVID infection are worse if the person is unvaccinated. About 86% of American adults now have at least one shot.