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Fauci said ‘focus on COVID-19 hospitalizations not case numbers’ just before US cases smashed records to top 1 million

Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

  • Americans should keen an eye on COVID-19 hospitalization data and not case numbers, Dr Anthony Fauci told ABC.
  • Reported cases in the US on Monday exceeded 1 million for the first time, smashing the previous record.
  • Boosters and masks could “help to blunt a surge even as pronounced as the Omicron surge,” Fauci said.

Americans should keep a close eye on COVID-19 hospitalizations rather than infections, Dr. Anthony Fauci said shortly before reported daily cases in the US exceeded 1 million for the first time.

“As you get further on and the infections become less severe, it is much more relevant to focus on the hospitalizations as opposed to the total number of cases,” Fauci said Sunday on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

On Monday, data from Johns Hopkins University showed US daily reported infections smashed records to exceed 1 million.

Studies suggest infection by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is milder than other variants like Delta. Data from South Africa points to fewer hospitalizations and deaths than in past waves.

The number of Americans hospitalized with COVID-19 has risen by around 85% since mid-November, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows. On average, just over 74,000 people were in hospital after being admitted with the disease in the week to January 1.

At last winter’s peak in early January, around 125,000 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19.

Though hospitalization rates are rising, they’re climbing at nowhere near the same rate as new infections. CDC data shows the seven-day average of new coronavirus cases hit a record 316,000 on December 29, the most recent day for which CDC data is available. At the height of last winter’s peak, the seven-day average reached 250,000.

“Given the large number of cases we have not seen a concomitant increase in the relative percentage of hospitalizations, but again, hospitalizations are often late-lagging indicators,” Fauci told ABC.

But even when variants are less severe, “when you have multi-multi-multi-fold more people getting infected then that amount means you’re still gonna get a lot of people that are gonna be needing hospitalization, and that’s the reason why we’re concerned about stressing and straining the hospital system,” Fauci said.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine mobilized 1,050 members of the Ohio National Guard on Friday to help hospitals across the state as COVID-19 cases surged and filled wards.

“One of the things we hope for is that this thing will peak after a period of a few weeks and turn around,” Fauci said. “We’ve seen that happen in South Africa.”

Data from the Johns Hopkins University shows that COVID-19 infections in South Africa are falling.

Fauci stressed the importance of vaccinations, boosters, and mask-wearing, saying that they could “help to blunt a surge even as pronounced as the Omicron surge.”

“I’m still very concerned about the tens of millions of people who are not vaccinated at all because even though many of them are going to get asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic, a fair number of them are going to get severe disease,” Fauci said.

Just over a quarter of Americans are yet to get a coronavirus vaccine. Many of these are minors but around 14.5% of people aged 18 and over haven’t yet been vaccinated.

In his interview with ABC, Fauci said that US officials had made the right call by reopening schools in January, citing the “deleterious effects” of keeping pupils at home. Most teachers are vaccinated and children aged five and over are now eligible for the shots, he said.

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