Hold on and hope the worst is over soon?

From Politico:

Yet even as the president sought to project calm, he conceded there was widespread confusion among Americans about the virus’s spread. And health officials inside and outside his administration privately acknowledge that there’s little new left for the federal government to do but hold on and hope the worst is over soon.

“Hold on and hope the worst is over soon” is very, very far away from “I’m going to shut down the virus.”

The good news is that with all of the vaccinations, boosters, and natural immunity and past infections, the Omicron variant wave isn’t going to be nearly as deadly as past waves. But we’re still in for a challenging couple of weeks ahead. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the number of hospital beds in use, and the percentage of hospital beds being used by someone being treated for Covid-19, is creeping up, day by day.

Back on December 27, 71.8 percent of the nation’s hospital beds were in use, and less than 10 percent of those patients in those beds were being treated for Covid-19. This morning, 78.8 percent of the nation’s hospital beds are in use, and 16.8 percent of those patients in those beds were being treated for Covid-19. Shortly after Christmas, a bit more than 75 percent of the nation’s ICU beds were in use, and more than 21 percent of the patients in those ICU beds were being treated for Covid-19. This morning, 81.8 percent of ICU beds are in use, and 27.4 percent of the patients in those ICU beds were being treated for Covid-19.

Are we peaking yet? We’re probably close. On January 3, on the New York Times chart, the U.S. collectively reported more than 1 million new cases. On January 4, it was more than 885,000. Yesterday, it was a bit more than 704,000. (Some of Monday’s figure might be delayed results from the New Year’s weekend.)

One thing to keep in mind about the official case number statistics is that they’re not counting people who start to feel sick, manage to get their hands on an at-home test, and test positive, unless those people notify their doctor’s office or local health officials. In other words, the number of new cases and active cases is probably higher than the official figures – fortunately, those unreported cases are mild. If they weren’t, those individuals would be at the doctor’s office or hospital, and get added to the official figures.

How close are we to the peak of the wave? Today in the New York Times, Dr. Jeffrey Shaman, an infectious disease modeler and epidemiologist at Columbia University, writes, “our models project that the United States is likely to document more Covid-19 cases in January than in any previous month of the pandemic, but a smaller fraction of those cases will require hospitalization… Our projections depict a rapid surge of cases nationally that peaks at record high numbers during the first one to three weeks of January. Just how many? Our middle-of-the-cone projection produces five million cases during the worst week but ranges from three million to more than eight million cases. And the estimates vary by location. New York City is projected to peak during the first week of January; other locations peak later.”

That sounds pretty ominous, but thankfully, most Omicron infections are mild. What we’re experiencing, and will experience in the coming weeks, should be akin to a bad flu season. The problem is that Covid-19 can still kill people who are elderly, immunocompromised, in particularly bad health, or have some combination of those factors, and the odds of beating a Covid infection are worse if the person is unvaccinated. (At this point, just under 86 percent of American adults have at least one shot.)

If tests were plentiful, getting through these next few weeks would be much easier. People who felt sick would quickly figure out if they had a cold, the flu, or Covid-19. They would isolate themselves and take particular care to avoid the most vulnerable, test regularly to see when the virus had passed through their systems, and once they knew they no longer had the virus, go back to their normal lives. The debate about isolating for five days vs. ten days would be moot – you would know when you were no longer testing positive. Unfortunately, despite the president’s promises, Covid-19 tests are tough to find on store shelves.

Without widespread and frequent testing, it’s almost impossible to mitigate the worst effects of a hyper-contagious virus. Far too often, people are forced to guess whether they have it, whether they should isolate, and whether they’re still contagious.

Oh, and there’s one other complication: there’s a possibility that some over-the-counter tests don’t do such a great job of detecting Omicron in the first few days of infection.

It took three days, on average, for people to test positive on a rapid antigen test after their first positive P.C.R. result. In four cases, people transmitted the virus to others while the rapid test showed the negative result, according to a study conducted by several members of the Covid-19 Sports and Society Working Group.

The results are consistent with other preliminary evidence that the at-home tests that many Americans have come to rely on — at least as currently administered, with a nasal swab — may fail to detect some Omicron cases in the first days of infection.

So some of the people who can find tests are taking them, getting a negative result, and going about their lives… not knowing that they’ve already caught it, and likely spread Omicron even further.

Hold on and hope the worst is over soon, indeed.

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