Hospitals feel the strain of omicron surge

New CDC research shows people hospitalized with the COVID-19 omicron variant had shorter stays and required less critical care than those hospitalized with other variants.

Still because omicron is infecting so many more people, hospitals are being stretched thin.

With the US averaging 692,000 new infections a day, and case numbers 5 times higher than they were with the delta variant surge, new CDC data shows the omicron variant is not making people as sick as previous variants.  

But CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says because of the sheer number of cases, hospitalizations have rapidly increased in a short amount of time, putting pressure on hospitals.

"Importantly, 'milder' does not mean ‘mild,’ and we cannot look past the strain on our health systems and substantial numbers of deaths, nearly 2,200 a day, as a result of the extremely transmissible omicron variant," Dr. Walensky says.

As of Wednesday in Georgia, 5,060 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, and 94% of Metro Atlanta inpatient hospital beds and 84% of the region's ICU beds were full.

The Georgia Department of Public Health reported 254 new hospitalizations and 93 deaths.

Grady Health System's chief medical offer says his hospital is treating its highest numbers of COVID-19 patients so far in the pandemic, peaking earlier this month with 285 coronavirus patients.

On Tuesday morning, Dr. Robert Jansen says, the emergency department had 70 patients admitted and waiting for a bed, but there were none available because the hospital was at "106% capacity." 

"I know many people are tired, but many of our hospitals are still struggling beyond capacity," Dr. Walensky says. "It's been a long two years. However, please now do your part to lean into this current moment.  Now is the time to do what we know works.  Wear a mask, get vaccinated and get boosted."

Just over 63% of Americans are fully vaccinated, and about 40% of those eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot have received an extra shot.

Health experts say the combination of vaccinations, boosters and people who have a level of immunity from fighting off a previous COVID-19 infection, could one day get the US to a point where the coronavirus can no longer disrupt day-to-day life.  

But Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden's top coronavirus medical advisor, says the country is not there yet.

"When you have over 2,000 deaths, 150,000 hospitalizations, and you have people who are now getting infected to the tune of somewhere around 700,000 a day, we're not there," Dr. Fauci says.

Still, Fauci says, if the US can get to a high enough level of "background" immunity, it may be possible to head off another surge down the road.

"We believe we can get there, because we have the tools, with vaccines, boosts, masks, with tests and with antivirals," Dr. Fauci says. "That's what we talk about when we get to the point where we can 'live' with the virus. But, as Dr. Walensky emphasized, that is not where we are at this point."