Omicron’s burden on health system apparent in new data

January 25, 2022

2 minutes read


Disclosure: Iuliano does not report any relevant financial information. The relevant financial information of all other authors can be found in the study.

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Omicron has taxed the country’s healthcare system, causing more COVID-19 cases, ED visits, and hospitalizations than any other variant during the pandemic, according to newly released data.

However, the researchers also found that infection with the highly transmissible variant was less likely to result in serious illness or death.

Juliano AD, et al.  MMWR Morbid Mortal Wkly Rep. 2022;doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7104e4.
Juliano AD, et al. MMWR Morbid Mortal Wkly Rep. 2022;doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7104e4.

“Although disease severity appears to be less with the omicron variant, the high volume of hospitalizations can weigh on local healthcare systems and the average daily number of deaths remains significant,” A Danielle IUliano, PhD, a member of the CDC COVID-19 Emergency Response Team and colleagues wrote MMWR.

“This underscores the importance of national emergency preparedness, particularly hospital capacity and the ability to adequately staff local health systems when critical care needs arise and before the system is overwhelmed,” they wrote.

Omicron is responsible for almost all new cases of COVID-19 and represents 99.5% of samples sequenced in the US as of January 15, Iuliano and colleagues reported.

For their study, they used data from three surveillance systems and a large healthcare database to assess the severity of the disease and healthcare burden associated with omicron during three periods of high transmission rate in the first 3 months of the pandemic, last summer and in the Rate delta wave in the fall. and the early Omicron period from December 19, 2021 to January 15, 2022.

The data showed that the highest daily 7-day average of cases (798,976), ED visits (48,238), and admissions (21,586) were reported during the Omicron period. However, the highest daily 7-day average of deaths (1,854) was lower during the Omicron period than in the previous two periods.

Other measures proved the effect of omicron. During the Omicron wave, a maximum of 20.6% of staff inpatient beds for patients with COVID-19 were occupied, 3.4 and 7.2 percentage points more than in the first 3 months and the Delta wave, respectively. And 30.4% of the intensive care beds were 0.5 or 1.2 percentage points less occupied than in the other two periods.

Iuliano and colleagues also found that the ratio of emergency room visits to cases, hospitalizations, and deaths was lower during the Omicron period than in the other periods, as was the average length of stay and the percentage of patients admitted to an ICU were admitted to invasive mechanical ventilation or died in hospital.

They attributed the reduced severity to higher vaccination coverage, lower virulence of the Omicron variant, and infection-acquired immunity.

A report released last week showed that a booster offered the best protection against the Omicron variant, officials said.

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