Monday, January 10, 2022

US Averaging 700K Daily Covid Cases; Short-Staffed Hospitals Can Be Easily Overwhelmed

The latest omicron-driven wave continues to break records for daily infections and the number of children hospitalized. While for many — especially the fully vaccinated — symptoms are less severe, the sheer numbers are still hitting medical facilities hard. Especially when their workers are also out sick.

The Wall Street Journal:
U.S. Covid-19 Seven-Day Case Average Tops 700,000

The seven-day average for newly reported cases in the U.S. topped 700,000 for the first time, data from Johns Hopkins University show, as the highly infectious Omicron variant spreads throughout the country. The average of known cases could soon triple the pre-Omicron record set a year ago, when the U.S. briefly saw about a quarter million daily cases. The numbers reported by state health departments and collected by Johns Hopkins also likely reflect a fraction of the true number, due in part to Omicron’s rapid spread and the difficulty many Americans have had getting tested. Some laboratories are limiting test-processing to certain people such as those with symptoms because of the surge in demand. (Kamp, 1/9)

The New York Times:
Early Data Hints At Omicron’s Potential Toll Across America

The extremely transmissible Omicron variant is spreading quickly across the United States, making up a vast majority of U.S. cases after becoming dominant in the week before Christmas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that it is still too soon to predict the full impact Omicron could have on deaths and illness across the country. But data in some of the earliest-hit cities is beginning to show what the future could hold. (Leatherby and Lutz, 1/9)

USA Today:
COVID Hospitalizations Of Kids Under 4 Increasing: Omicron Updates

Hospitalization rates among the youngest children are reaching their highest levels yet as the omicron variant spreads and babies and toddlers remain ineligible to be vaccinated, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday. Although hospitalization rates among the youngest children remain lower compared to many older Americans, data from the CDC indicate 4.3 per 100,000 children 4 years old and younger were hospitalized in the week ending Jan. 1. Children ages 5 to 17 had a hospitalization rate of 1.1, while adults ages 18 to 49 had a rate of 4.2. The rate among people 65 and older was 14.7 per 100,000, according to the CDC data. (Tebor, Thornton, Weintraub and Miller, 1/7)

Across the U.S., hospitals are in trouble —

The Atlantic:
Omicron Isn’t Mild For Hospitals

When a health-care system crumbles, this is what it looks like. Much of what’s wrong happens invisibly. At first, there’s just a lot of waiting. Emergency rooms get so full that “you’ll wait hours and hours, and you may not be able to get surgery when you need it,” Megan Ranney, an emergency physician in Rhode Island, told me. When patients are seen, they might not get the tests they need, because technicians or necessary chemicals are in short supply. Then delay becomes absence. The little acts of compassion that make hospital stays tolerable disappear. Next go the acts of necessity that make stays survivable. Nurses might be so swamped that they can’t check whether a patient has their pain medications or if a ventilator is working correctly. People who would’ve been fine will get sicker. Eventually, people who would have lived will die. This is not conjecture; it is happening now, across the United States. “It’s not a dramatic Armageddon; it happens inch by inch,” Anand Swaminathan, an emergency physician in New Jersey, told me. (Wong, 1/7)

Nearly A Quarter Of Hospitals Are Reporting A Critical Staff Shortage As Omicron Drives A Rise In Covid-19 Cases

About 24% of US hospitals are reporting a “critical staffing shortage,” according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services, as public health experts warn the Covid-19 surge fueled by the Omicron variant threatens the nation’s health care system. “Given how much infection there is, our hospitals really are at the brink right now,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, told CNN on Sunday. (Andone and Cullinane, 1/9)

Kansas Hospital Runs Out Of Ventilators As Virus Cases Soar

A hospital in eastern Kansas ran out of ventilators Friday as the state continued to report a surge in COVID-19 cases. The Lyons County Board declared a local emergency Friday after the Newman Regional Health hospital in Emporia ran short of ventilators. The Kansas City Star reports that the emergency declaration will help the hospital receive two additional ventilators from the state’s Emergency Operations Center. (1/9)

St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
St. Louis Hospitals Notch A Seventh Day Of Record-Breaking COVID Admissions 

A weeklong stretch of record-setting coronavirus numbers continued uninterrupted Sunday, with area hospitals reporting across-the-board spikes in admissions, intensive care patients and ventilator use. The region’s four main health care systems were treating 1,283 COVID-positive patients Sunday, the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force reported. That figure surpassed Saturday’s all-time peak of 1,219. An average of 1,139 patients were in the hospital for COVID each day of the past week — another record — up from 1,085 on Saturday. (Schrappen, 1/9)

Los Angeles Times:
L.A. County Sets New Daily Record With 45,000 Coronavirus Cases

Los Angeles County reached another daily record of coronavirus cases as health officials on Sunday reported more than 45,000 new infections. The county recorded 45,584 new cases amid the surge in infections driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus, according to figures released by the county’s Department of Public Health. The department also reported 13 new deaths, bringing the county’s total number of deaths to 27,785 since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Vega, 1/9)

Texas Tribune:
Omicron Is On Track To Shatter Texas’ COVID-19 Hospitalization Records

Pandemic forecasters in Texas say the state’s current surge of omicron infections and hospitalizations is likely to get much worse before it gets better, with hospitalizations expected to continue climbing for at least three weeks if social behaviors don’t change and slow the trend. Across the nation, hospitalizations are already on the verge of breaking new pandemic records. In Texas on Thursday, according to state data, about 9,200 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 — far short of the record 14,218 hospitalizations from Jan. 11, 2021. (Brooks Harper and Astudillo, 1/9)

Philadelphia Inquirer:
COVID Hospitalizations In Pa.: 90% Of Patients Unvaccinated, Hospitals Say

Pennsylvania hospitals say the vast majority of hospitalized coronavirus patients are still unvaccinated — as high as 90% at some hospitals — even as more vaccinated people are also getting infected amid the omicron-delta surge. Over the last year, the rate of hospitalization and death among unvaccinated people in the United States has been much higher than for those fully vaccinated. But now as more immunized people get breakthrough cases of the omicron variant of the virus, the protection provided by the vaccine has been proven again and again, doctors say. While the shots do not always prevent mild or asymptomatic infections, the risk of not being vaccinated is on grim display, they say, pointing to their overflowing wards and strained intensive care units. (McDaniel and McCarthy, 1/7)

The Boston Globe:
As Mass. COVID Hospitalization Numbers Surge Over Last Winter’s, Health Care Leaders Urge Public To Get Vaccinated, Boosted

With Massachusetts hospitalization rates now climbing higher than last winter, four leaders of hospitals and health systems say their workers have done their part — and now it’s time for the public to do its part by getting vaccinated, boosted, and wearing masks. “We are here for you and your families, whether you have been vaccinated or not. We will do our part; we ask that you do yours,” they said in a Globe op-ed. The state reported Thursday that 2,524 patients with COVID-19 were in the hospital. That exceeds the peak during last winter’s deadly surge of 2,428 on Jan. 4, 2021. (Fatima, 1/7)

Is there good news on the horizon? —

Fox News:
Omicron Wave Receding At Global Epicenter, CDC Cautiously Optimistic

The omicron wave that has whiplashed the world with surging cases has peaked after approximately four weeks in a large South African hospital in the City of Tshwane where the global outbreak first started, according to a recent paper. The research, which is not yet peer-reviewed, compared 466 hospital COVID-19 admissions at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital since Nov. 14, 2021 (when the omicron outbreak began) to 3976 prior admissions at the same hospital before the outbreak began. (Sudhakar, 1/9)

People Are Desperate For Covid Tests — But Florida Throws Away 1M Of Them

After a state official said Thursday that the tests had expired, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday tried to explain why the state didn’t distribute them.

DeSantis Defends Allowing Stockpiled Covid Tests To Expire

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday defended his administration’s decision to allow up to one million Covid-19 rapid test kits to expire, a move that comes as he is facing increasing criticism from Democrats over his handling of the Omicron surge. Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie admitted during a Thursday press conference that the tests expired, and DeSantis on Friday sought to explain why the state didn’t distribute them. DeSantis has argued that the stockpile resulted from a lack of demand in the later part of 2021 and blamed President Joe Biden’s administration for not granting extensions to keep the tests eligible — something it did in September for three months. (Dixon, 1/7)

In testing news from California —

San Francisco Chronicle:
California Officials Warn Against Price Gouging Of Home Coronavirus Test Kits

With coronavirus tests nearly impossible to find in the Bay Area — and San Francisco health officials saying they will limit testing early this week because of “challenges beyond our control” — California officials are now warning against price gouging for at-home test kits. California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a consumer alert Saturday about sellers charging exorbitant prices for over-the-counter rapid tests, after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order over the weekend limiting sellers’ markups. Unauthorized test sites also are becoming a concern, San Francisco health officials warned. (Flores, 1/9)

Los Angeles Times:
Newsom Proposes $2.7 Billion To Expand COVID Response Efforts

California would spend $2.7 billion on new efforts to respond to the surge in COVID-19 cases, including additional testing capacity and assistance to hospitals, under a budget proposal Gov. Gavin Newsom will send to state lawmakers next week. Newsom will also ask legislators to help craft new COVID sick pay rules for Californians, modeled after the policy that expired last fall, requiring businesses with 26 or more workers to offer up to two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave for employees to care for themselves or a family member. (Myers, 1/8)

In more news about covid tests —

ABC News:
The Government Is Sending Free Rapid Tests, But Don’t Expect Them All Before Omicron’s Peak

The Biden administration’s plan to send 500 million at-home tests to Americans for free is an historic undertaking, but one that will take weeks or months to fully execute, recently released contracts and interviews with seven test manufacturers suggest. Contracts for the first two batches of tests were announced on Friday, one for 13.3 million kits from a health technology company and another for an undisclosed amount from a distribution company in Virginia that had extras on hand — all to be distributed in an effort to reduce the massive testing shortage in the U.S. (Haslett and Abdelmalek, 1/10)

The Wall Street Journal:
Labs Limit Covid-19 Test Access As Demand Soars

Escalating demand for Covid-19 tests is prompting some laboratories to ration access, giving priority to people with symptoms or other health concerns as the Omicron variant quickly spreads. Triaging who is eligible for Covid-19 tests can help ensure that patients who need a test the most get results fast enough to isolate or get treatment, pathologists and public-health experts say. The strategy, however, risks perpetuating the virus’s spread if some people get turned away from testing altogether. (Abbott, 1/9)

The Washington Post:
Rapid Tests Are Crucial Despite Reduced Sensitivity To Omicron, Experts Say

At-home rapid coronavirus tests remain the “bedrock of our long-term strategy for managing this virus,” said Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health — even in the face of new research that suggests they may be less effective at identifying illness caused by the omicron variant. The antigen tests, commonly referred to as rapid or at-home tests, “remain a very, very effective tool,” Jha said on ABC’s “This Week.” He noted that “in the first day of symptoms” with omicron, “it does look like the test is a little less sensitive,” but beyond that, “these antigen tests continue to work really effectively.” (Pietsch and Hassan, 1/10)

USA Today:
COVID At-Home Tests Are Meant For Nasal Passages, Not Throat: Experts

Early data suggests virus particles from COVID variants – including omicron – may appear in the throat before reaching nasal passages where test swabs are done. And federal regulators warn the rapid tests in general may not be as effective detecting the new variant. To make sure they don’t miss an infection, some have opted to add a swab to the back of their throat as well as their nose. But federal agencies and health experts urge that at-home tests be used as directed and to not add a throat swab – for now. Throat swabbing may be called for in the future, experts say, but the tests currently authorized in the U.S. weren’t manufactured to detect virus in a person’s throat and could deliver false results. (Rodriguez, 1/8)

The Wall Street Journal:
How Reliable Are Covid-19 Rapid Tests For Detecting Omicron? 

The good news: Rapid antigen tests can definitely detect Omicron. The bad news: Some research indicates that rapid tests may be less sensitive to Omicron than they are to other variants. That means the tests might be yielding more false negatives, especially in the early days of infection. And preliminary data from one small study suggests that people could be contagious before they get a positive result on a rapid test. (Reddy, 1/9)

Much Of America Isn’t Tracking At-Home COVID Test Results

As America’s record Omicron surge continues, cities and states across the country have no cohesive strategy to monitor the results of at-home rapid COVID tests. This patchwork system means the official COVID case counts are almost certainly a vast undercount. Many cities don’t have an accurate sense of just how prevalent COVID is as they make decisions about mask mandates, school closures and other restrictions. (1/8)

If You’re A Hospital Worker In Arizona With Covid, You Could Still Go To Work

One major health provider in the state has decided that employees with mild or asymptomatic covid can still attend work without quarantine. AP reports on the “conundrum” caused by omicron, with a debate over working or staying home. Other news outlets cover burnout in over-worked health staff.

Arizona Provider OKs Virus-Positive Hospital Workers 

A major health care provider in Arizona will allow employees who are experiencing mild COVID-19 symptoms or are asymptomatic to keep working at its hospitals and facilities. Because of the omicron variant’s rapid spread in Maricopa County and in anticipation of a continued increase, Dignity Health officials said they have enacted the “third tier” of the federal guidelines for health care workers with the coronavirus. (1/9)

Stay Home Or Work Sick? Omicron Poses A Conundrum 

As the raging omicron variant of COVID-19 infects workers across the nation, millions of those whose jobs don’t provide paid sick days are having to choose between their health and their paycheck. While many companies instituted more robust sick leave policies at the beginning of the pandemic, some of those have since been scaled back with the rollout of the vaccines, even though omicron has managed to evade the shots. Meanwhile, the current labor shortage is adding to the pressure of workers having to decide whether to show up to their job sick if they can’t afford to stay home. (D’Innocenzio and Durbin, 1/9)

There’s no end in sight for burned-out workers —

The Baltimore Sun:
Staffs Of Maryland Hospitals, Stressed And Sickened With COVID-19, Know ‘Cavalry’ Isn’t Coming 

As COVID-19 hospitalizations climb into uncharted territory, fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant, Maryland’s medical workforce is increasingly diminished by illness and exposure, burnout and turnover. Gov. Larry Hogan has responded with pleas for people to get vaccinated and boosted and wear masks to spare the hospitals. The state opened several testing sites near hospitals so people would stop flooding emergency rooms with nonemergencies. (Cohn and Miller, 1/8)

The Wall Street Journal:
When You’re Burned Out At Your Job, But It’s Also Your Calling 

Erine Cressell worked as a hospital nurse for 15 years, with dreams of finishing an advanced degree and treating patients with addiction issues in her corner of Appalachia. That was before the pandemic. Beginning in 2020, she spent most of her days diverted to her hospital’s emergency room, tending to people who would have been admitted to the floors above, if only there was enough staff there to care for them. After her 12-hour shifts, she sometimes would sit on a curb in the hospital parking lot and cry. Then she would drive 45 minutes to her home in Glen Lyn, Va., and do her second job—which was supposed to be her only job—compiling data for the hospital’s quality department. Sneak in a little sleep, and repeat. (Feintzeig, 1/10)

Bay Area News Group:
Pharmacists Face Pandemic Burnout, Too

“Most pharmacists who’ve been in the field for a while, have been telling students ‘just stop, don’t go to pharmacy school, do something else, anything else,’” one clinical pharmacist in Boston said. “I’m hoping that the people who are going into pharmacy school are doing it because they truly have a passion for it and will fight for it and want to do nothing else with their lives.” This pharmacist, who asked to remain anonymous for job security, said she’s faced challenges unique to the COVID era, including staffing shortages due to COVID outages and people leaving the industry. She’s even been asked to come into work while caring for her COVID-positive child, she said. (Sokolow, 1/9)

Omicron Shakes Up Pandemic ‘Normal,’ Leaving Americans Uncertain, Weary

As scientists rush to understand omicron’s impact on vaccines and testing, while officials debate revisions to health guidance, an anxious public is left wondering how to cope with skyrocketing covid infections.

Chicago Tribune:
Latest COVID Surge Has Brought A Rise In Anxiety, Pandemic Fatigue 

Like so many COVID-weary Americans, Kyle Hopwood thought the pandemic was winding down over the summer, as virus case counts in the Chicago area waned and life seemed to inch closer to normal. She was relieved after getting vaccinated against COVID-19, and tentatively began dining at restaurants and resuming small get-togethers with loved ones. Hopwood and her fiance set a wedding date for September 2022, assuming that by then the pandemic would be a distant memory. (Lourgos, Presa and Lee, 1/9)

The CDC tries to correct its confusing guidance about covid —

Biden Administration Faces COVID Credibility Crisis 

A series of messaging missteps is threatening the credibility of federal health agencies, and critics say the White House isn’t doing enough to manage the fallout. While much of the unvaccinated population is unlikely to be persuaded by any messenger, large swaths of the public are still receptive to expert guidance, but federal health agencies, particularly the CDC, may be squandering their credibility with this population. (Owens, 1/10)

CDC Criticized For Failing To Communicate, Promises To Do Better

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a telebriefing.Director Rochelle Walensky presided, along with two career scientists. The substance was notable — updated COVID-19 guidance for K-12 schools. But even more notable was the fact that the briefing was happening at all. It was the first such briefing in months, despite the ongoing pandemic crisis. That lack of regular communication has spurred criticism of the agency. In recent days, public health experts have called out CDC for confusing isolation and quarantine guidance, and asked the agency to communicate more often and more clearly. (Simmons-Duffin, 1/7)

And more lawmakers test positive for covid —

NY Rep. Ocasio-Cortez Recovering After Positive COVID Test 

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has tested positive for COVID-19 and “is experiencing symptoms and recovering at home,” her office said in a statement Sunday evening. The Democratic congresswoman’s office said Ocasio-Cortez received a booster shot last fall, adding that she “encourages everyone to get their booster” and follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (1/10)

The Hill:
Rep. Jim Cooper Becomes Latest Lawmaker To Test COVID-19 Positive

Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper (D) announced that he has tested positive for COVID-19, making him at least the third lawmaker of the weekend to announce a breakthrough case of the virus. “This morning I tested positive for COVID-19,” Cooper, 67, said in a tweet on Saturday. “Thankfully I only have mild symptoms because I have been vaccinated and received my booster. Everyone should be vaccinated and boosted as soon as they’re able. It’s the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones.” (Choi, 1/9)

US Rep Casten Of Illinois Tests Positive For COVID-19 

U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Illinois has tested positive for a breakthrough case of COVID-19, according to his office. The suburban Chicago Democrat’s office released a statement Saturday saying Casten was fully vaccinated and had received a booster vaccine dose. He described his symptoms as “mild” and said was in isolation. (1/9)

First, There Was ‘Flurona’; Now There’s ‘Deltacron’

Leondios Kostrikis, a scientist at the University of Cyprus, says 25 cases of the combination delta-omicron strain have been found, but Kostrikis predicts it won’t last globally. (And with any luck, “fludeltachron” won’t become a thing, either.)

Fox News:
Omicron, Delta Have Fused Into New ‘Deltacron’ Strain, Cyprus Professor Finds

A new strain of the coronavirus appears to be a genetic fusion of currently known omicron and delta variants, a researcher claims. The so-called “deltacron” strain pairs omicron genetic signatures with delta variant genomes, says Leondios Kostrikis, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus, according to CNBC. While 25 cases of the uniquely recognizable strain have been found, Kostrikis predicted it will not last against the globally dominant omicron variant. (Richard, 1/8)

Cyprus Reportedly Discovers A Covid Variant That Combines Omicron And Delta

A researcher in Cyprus has discovered a strain of the coronavirus that combines the delta and omicron variant, Bloomberg News reported on Saturday. Leondios Kostrikis, professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus, called the strain “deltacron,” because of its omicron-like genetic signatures within the delta genomes, Bloomberg said. So far, Kostrikis and his team have found 25 cases of the virus, according to the report. It’s still too early to tell whether there are more cases of the strain or what impacts it could have. (Bursztynsky, 1/8)

In more news about omicron —

CBS News:
COVID-19 Symptoms And The Omicron Variant: What The Latest Studies Show

Doctors studying Omicron’s spread around the world have found new clues to the pattern of symptoms caused by the highly-mutated COVID-19 variant, which a growing number of reports suggest might show up differently and faster compared to the Delta variant it is now displacing. … A sore throat ranked among the most common early Omicron symptoms, as well as congestion, a dry cough and lower back pain. The incubation period — the time from infection to symptoms appearing — was as short as three days. That’s several days faster than previous strains of the virus. (Tin, 1/7)

NBC News:
Many Patients Hospitalized For Other Ailments Are Also Testing Positive For Covid

As the super contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus spreads, hospitals are seeing a growing trend: Patients admitted for other ailments are also testing positive for Covid-19. Doctors say it may mean more people have asymptomatic or undiagnosed disease than the current data show. Across NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital’s 10 campuses, just less than half of patients are admitted with Covid, meaning they were hospitalized for a non-Covid related issue but were also tested and found to be carrying the virus. Statewide the figure is 43 percent, according to state data. (Lovelace Jr., 1/8)

Chicago Tribune:
COVID-19 Long Hauler From Hobart Describes Life After Virus: ‘I Had More Symptoms Post-COVID Than I Did During The Time I Had The COVID’ 

Theresa Camarena used to be able to workout and walk her dog in the same day. She used to be able to unload the dishwasher without experiencing shortness of breath. She used to be able to work four days a week. Camarena, 63, works as a respiratory therapist and started the pulmonary rehabilitation program at Franciscan Health Crown Point more than 30 years ago. She has worked there for 43 years. On July 20, 2020, Camarena, a mother of three who lives in Hobart, tested positive for COVID-19, she said. (Kukulka, 1/9)

Also —

Education NC:
More Than 3,600 N.C. Children Are Coping With The Death Of A Caregiver Due To The Pandemic 

At least 3,626 children across North Carolina — mostly students of color — are currently coping with the death of a caregiver due to COVID-19. Schools will bear responsibility for supporting children who’ve experienced this loss as they learn and grow over the next two decades. Research published in October in the journal Pediatrics revealed the high toll caregiver deaths are taking on children nationwide, particularly Native American, Hispanic, and Black children. The researchers used fertility, household composition data, and COVID-19 and excess death rates to estimate what they termed “COVID-19-associated orphanhood.” They estimated at least 1,855 children in North Carolina lost a caregiver between April 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021. Updated estimates now put this number even higher. (Dukes, 1/8)