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CDC boss says COVID-19 hospitalizations are ‘comparatively low’ as US records most ever cases in a single day

A graph highlighting recent COVID-19 trends in the US.

CDC

  • Hospitalizations and deaths are “comparatively low” in this wave of COVID-19, said the CDC head. 
  • The news comes as new daily cases reached record levels in the US.
  • It is driven by the Omicron variant, which makes up some 59% of new cases, per CDC data.

The US is seeing fewer COVID-19 hospitalizations per case than in previous waves, suggesting Omicron is causing “milder disease” than previous variants, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Wednesday. 

The news comes as new daily reported cases reach record highs, topping 277,000 new cases per day, per CDC data. The new wave is being driven by infections from the Omicron variant.

“While cases have substantially increased from last week, hospitalizations and deaths remain comparatively low right now,” Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, told reporters at a White House briefing. 

She warned that it was not clear if the trend would last. 

” This could be due to the fact that hospitalizations tend to lag behind cases by about two weeks,” she said.

“But [it] may also be due to early indications that we’ve seen from other countries like South Africa and UK of milder disease from Omicron, especially among the vaccinated and the boosted,” she said.

A graph shows daily COVID-19 hospitalizations and daily and seven day average cases in the US.Daily new COVID-19 cases are pictured in blue (daily reported) and red (seven day average). The orange line represents average daily new COVID-19 hospitalizations.

CDC

Here are the stats: 

  • Cases are skyrocketing up, with new cases up 60% compared to the previous week, per Walensky — these have gone from about 177,000 average new daily cases on December 22 to about 277,000 on December 28.
  • New COVID-19 hospitalizations are up, but not in proportion to cases. There were 14% more daily new hospitalization than the previous week — from about 8,000 average daily new COVID-19 hospital admissions on December 20 to about 9,400 on December 27.
  • New COVID-19 deaths were down 7% compared to the previous week — standing at about 1,100 average new daily COVID-19 deaths reported on December 28, down from about 1,200 on December 20. 

a graph shows daily COVID-19 deaths in the US.A graph shows new daily COVID-19 deaths in the US. Daily reports (blue) and seven-day average (red) are shown.

CDC

Omicron is driving the latest wave of cases in the US, with recent estimates suggesting the variant makes up 59% of new cases in the US.

Vaccines seem to still be protecting against the worst COVID-19 disease, hospitalization, and death— with South Africa reporting two doses of vaccine reducing the risk of hospitalization by 70%.

However, the variant seems be better at causing mild illness among vaccinated people. 

Data suggests that boosters could enhance the level of protection against symptomatic disease, although a recent study suggested that this protection might be short-lived. 

About 62% of the US population has received two doses of vaccine, and about a third of those have gotten a booster shot, per CDC data.

“Boosters are critical in getting our approach to Omicron to be optimal,” Walensky said, urging people to get their third dose. 

The news comes as the CDC is being widely criticized for its decision to shorten quarantine periods for asymptomatic people from 10 to five days without needing to test to be released.

In response to the criticism, Walensky argued that this period of isolation is what the CDC thought “people would be able to tolerate” and that it was shortened partly to ensure hospitals are adequately staffed. 

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