While all eyes are on the new and little-understood omicron variety that is causing havoc throughout the country, the delta version of the coronavirus is still wreaking havoc in the Midwest and New England, flooding hospitals with record numbers of patients.
“Omicron is a glimmer in the horizon.” “The fire that’s here now is the Delta version,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of Maine’s state Center for Disease Control and Prevention, where 334 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of midweek.
On Wednesday, a Californian who had traveled to South Africa, where the variation was originally found a week earlier, was diagnosed with omicron infection. More instances were recorded on Thursday, with five in the New York City region and one each in Minnesota, Hawaii, and Colorado, indicating that the variation had begun to spread across the United States.
But there’s still a lot we don’t know about omicron, such as whether it’s more infectious than prior versions, makes patients worse, thwarts the vaccination, or breaks through people’s COVID-19 protection more quickly. No deaths have been linked to omicron by international health authorities.
For the time being, the extra-contagious delta variety is responsible for nearly all cases in the United States, and it is wreaking havoc at a time when many hospitals are dealing with nurse shortages and a backlog of patients awaiting treatments that were postponed early in the pandemic.
The concern is that omicron would swarm hospitals with even more patients, maybe sicker ones.
“I can’t fathom,” said Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, a family physician in Phoenix, which has also been severely impacted. “Will there be another increase of cases, much higher than what we’re witnessing now?” What effect will this have on our health-care system? What will happen to our hospitals as a result of this?”
COVID-19 has killed about 780,000 Americans two years into the pandemic, with around 900 fatalities per day.
The number of cases and deaths in the United States has declined by almost half from the delta’s height in August and September, but at around 86,000 new infections each day, the numbers remain high, especially as people travel and congregate with family during the holidays.
Hospitals are feeling the strain as the chilly weather brings more people indoors.
Dr. Andre Kalil, an infectious-disease physician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, stated, “Delta is not subsiding.” Nebraska reported 555 patients in the hospital with COVID-19 on Tuesday, the largest number since the vaccine’s introduction began in December.
Vermont’s highest daily number of COVID-19 cases was 604 on Thursday, two days after the hospital caseload reached a pandemic high of 84. New Hampshire, which was formerly a pioneer in early immunization, is now second only to Michigan in terms of new cases per capita in the last two weeks.
The Pentagon deployed medical teams to two large hospitals in Minnesota, which ranks third in new cases per capita, last month to relieve physicians and nurses, and another team is scheduled to arrive Friday.
“I can quite plainly declare that this fourth wave has impacted Minnesota harder than any of the prior ones,” said Dr. Timothy Johnson, head of the American College of Emergency Physicians’ Minnesota branch.
Hospitals are struggling, he added, due to a shortage of nurses, weariness, and patients receiving procedures that had to be postponed earlier in the crisis due to the crisis. “Those chickens are starting to come home to roost a little bit now,” he explained.
The number of COVID-19 patients at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, where one of the military teams was dispatched, has risen since September, but it is still well below pandemic levels, according to spokesperson Christine Hill.
“It’s worrying, especially with the holidays approaching,” she added.
Military troops have also traveled to Michigan, where hospitals are dealing with a higher number of COVID-19 cases than at any other point throughout the outbreak.
Dr. Pauline Park, a critical care physician at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, described the current spike as “heartbreaking.” One of the patients, a young lady in her twenties, died the week before Thanksgiving. Another woman, a mother of small children, is on a machine that replaces her lungs.
Arizona, where pupils have been placed in isolation in hundreds of schools, reported over 3,100 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, comparable to the terrible summer of 2020. Hospital bed availability has reached epidemic lows.
“It’s really sad because it feels like we’re moving backwards in time,” Bhuyan explained, “despite though we have these vaccinations, which are such a fantastic weapon for us.”
Outside of South Africa, which has verified more than 170 cases, nearly a third of the world’s countries have reported omicron illnesses, including India on Thursday.
The delta variety is still doing havoc in Europe, particularly in Germany and Austria. In South Korea, a delta-driven increase has pushed hospitalization and mortality rates to new highs.
Unvaccinated people were restricted from nonessential businesses, cultural and recreational places in Germany on Thursday, as new COVID-19 infections reached 70,000 in a 24-hour period. In the next weeks, lawmakers are anticipated to take up a broad vaccination requirement. Austria, on the other hand, has extended its curfew.
The restrictions, according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are required because hospitals may become overburdened: “Our country’s position is critical.”