CDC on omicron cases, hospitalizations: ‘Milder does not mean mild’

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, answers questions during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine the federal response to COVID-19 on Jan. 12, 2022.
Greg Nash

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky advised against taking a relaxed approach to COVID-19 safety protocols based on data suggesting the omicron variant is less likely to cause severe disease, warning that “milder does not mean mild.”

“Although it’s encouraging that Omicron appears to be causing less severe disease, it’s important to remember that we are still facing a high overall burden of disease,” Walensky said in a press briefing on Wednesday. “Hospitalizations have rapidly increased in a short amount of time, putting a strain on many local health systems.” 

“Importantly, milder does not mean mild and we cannot look past the strain on our health systems and substantial number of deaths — nearly, 2,200 a day — as a result of the extremely transmissible omicron variant,” she said.

Walensky’s warning comes as the average number of deaths due to COVID-19 surpassed the peak of deaths during the surge in cases caused by the delta variant. According to the CDC, the seven-day average for COVID-related deaths reached 2,166 this week.

The strain’s high transmissibility has led to a surge in hospitalizations that have caused many health care facilities to reach capacity. Some states have deployed their National Guards to alleviate the pressure on their hospital systems. A large portion of people who have been hospitalized are unvaccinated.

According to CDC data, the U.S. has a seven-day average of more than 19,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations, with average hospitalizations dropping by 7.7 percent from the previous seven days.

“Strikingly, when we compare the past month when omicron was the predominant variant, we see a clear separation between cases, hospital admissions and deaths,” Walensky said. “And while cases have dramatically increased and are five times higher than they were during the delta wave, hospitalizations have not increased at the same rate, and deaths remain low in comparison to the case counts.”

Tags Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 omicron Rochelle Walensky ROchelle Walensky SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant

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