‘There’s a tsunami coming’ for unvaccinated people as COVID cases rise

Forget the waves of Covid-19, one expert says “there’s a tsunami coming” for unvaccinated Americans as the Delta variant continues to fuel new cases and hospitalizations and the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly and could soon swamp hospital systems.

“This Omicron variant is extraordinarily contagious. It’s as contagious as measles, and that’s about the most contagious virus that we’ve seen,” CNN medical analyst Jonathan Reiner told CNN’s Pamela Brown Saturday.

Cases of Omicron are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in the countries where community transmissions are documented, the World Health Organization said Saturday.

And in the US, Omicron is expected to become the “dominant strain” in the coming weeks, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Friday.

The US was averaging 126,967 new cases of Covid-19 per day as of Saturday, according to Johns Hopkins University, and fourteen states saw an uptick of at least 10% in cases over the past week compared to the previous week, the data shows.

Scientists say it’s still too early to tell whether Omicron causes a milder form of Covid-19 disease, but regardless, it will put pressure on the health care system.

“Why would you go into that kind of battle completely unarmed?,” Reiner said. “Our vaccines will protect you, particularly if you are triple vaxed. People who are unvaxed should start the process now. Go ahead and go to your pharmacy and get vaccinated,” he said.

Reiner, a professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences, said he believes almost everyone will be exposed to the virus, though those who are triple vaccinated will not necessarily contract Covid-19.

“But I do not think that we need to just throw our hands up in the air and say, ‘Look, we’re all going to get it so let’s just let it burn through the country.’ If we do that, our hospitals will be swamped,” he said.

Reiner said even if Omicron ends up causing less severe infection than Delta, the sheer number of cases it could generate could overwhelm US hospitals.

“We need to protect our health care system, and that’s why every American needs to mask up and vax up right now because our health care infrastructure is at stake right now,” he said.

According to CDC data, 61.4% of the total US population is fully vaccinated and 29.1% of those have received a booster.

More than 69,000 people are hospitalized with Covid-19 across the US and more than 20% of all ICU beds are occupied by Covid-19 patients, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

New York tops record for daily new cases

On Saturday, New York State broke its record for the highest single-day Covid-19 case count since the beginning of the pandemic for a second consecutive day, with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office reporting 21,908 positive Covid-19 cases, up from 21,027 on Friday.

Covid-19 hospitalizations across the state remained relatively low at 3,909, compared to a peak of 18,825 Covid-19 related hospitalizations on April 13, 2020, according to available data.

“This is not like the beginning of the pandemic,” Hochul said in a statement Saturday. “We are prepared for the winter surge because we have the tools at our disposal.”

In New York City, positive Covid-19 cases more than doubled from the beginning of the week on December 13 to Saturday, although Covid-19 hospitalizations remained around the same throughout the week with a slight spike in hospitalizations reported Saturday, according to data released by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office.

“We’re definitely going to get a tsunami of cases,” Director of Global Health and Emergency Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center Dr. Craig Spencer told CNN Saturday. “We know that today we had record level cases here in New York City that only eclipses yesterday’s record level of cases. We know that a lot of people are going to test positive.”

The surge has already hit the entertainment industry in the city.

This week’s “Saturday Night Live” went without an audience and aired mostly pre-taped segments due to the rise in Covid-19 cases.

The move followed the cancellation of some Broadway performances and the Radio City Rockettes’ “Christmas Spectacular” shows for the rest of the year.

Hospitals are feeling the impact

New York isn’t the only state grappling with concerning coronavirus data.

California health officials said Friday they were seeing hospitalization numbers begin to trend upward, stressing the need for vaccinations and booster vaccines.

In New Jersey, “we’re seeing long lines outside of our testing clinic, more demand than we’ve seen in many months for testing, because folks are getting sick,” Dr. Shereef Elnahal, president and CEO of University Hospital in Newark, told CNN’s Amara Walker.

Hospitalizations have doubled over the last two weeks, he said, and although 46% of those hospitalized earlier this week had been vaccinated, they had not had a booster shot.

Dr. Rob Davidson, an emergency room physician in Michigan, said he’s seeing a “pretty critical Delta surge right now.” And while he’s seeing the test positivity rate slightly decrease, Covid-19 patients are staying in the hospital for extended periods of time.

Dr. Marc Gorelick, who heads Children’s Minnesota hospital, said the facility is already struggling to cope with the numbers.

“When you’re on top of a surge where you’re already at 90%, 95% capacity, those extra … preventable Covid patients coming in are the thing that pushes the system to the brink. And that’s what we’re seeing here in Minnesota,” Gorelick told CNN’s Kate Bolduan Friday.

In Oregon, officials forecast a grim early 2022.

“We can expect a surge in Oregon hospitalizations by mid-January, with infections that begin sooner than that,” said Dr. Peter Graven, a data scientist for Oregon Health and Science University. “Combined with its heightened transmissibility, we expect Omicron will generate a large increase in the number of Oregonians that will become severely ill and likely need a hospital.”

Scientists working to measure Omicron severity

As hospitals continue to feel the burden of Covid-19 infections, scientists are racing to gather more information on the Omicron variant’s severity.

The CDC said last week it looked at 43 cases of Omicron and most of those people had mild symptoms. Most were vaccinated, with about a third of the total group boosted.

“We’ve seen cases of Omicron among those who are both vaccinated and boosted, and we believe these cases are milder or asymptomatic because of vaccine protection. What we do know is we have the tools to protect ourselves against Covid-19. We have vaccines. We have boosters,” Walensky said during a White House Covid-19 response team meeting Friday.

Data from two weeks of South African cases appeared to indicate Omicron was milder in severity. But UK epidemiologists said this week they found no evidence Omicron is causing milder disease there, although the Imperial College London team also said there was not much data to go on yet.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Friday that it is still too soon to assume Omicron will cause milder disease and that, regardless, people needed to protect themselves with vaccines and boosters.

But he said it was “clear that Omicron is an extremely contagious variant, that it doubles every two to four days.”

“The problem, of course, is if this is so infectious — and we might see hundreds of thousands of cases every day, maybe even a million cases in a day from Omicron — even if it’s a little less severe, you are going to have a lot of people in the hospital and our hospitals are already really stretched with Delta, especially in the northern part of the country,” Collins said.

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