(CNN) — Forget COVID-19 waves, one expert says “a tsunami is coming” for unvaccinated Americans as the delta variant continues to drive new cases and hospitalizations and the omicron variant spreads rapidly and could soon overwhelm hospital systems .
“This omicron variant is extraordinarily contagious. It’s as contagious as measles, and that’s the most contagious virus we’ve ever seen,” CNN medical analyst Jonathan Reiner told CNN’s Pamela Brown on Saturday.
Omicron cases double every 1.5 to 3 days in countries where community broadcasts are documented, the World Health Organization said Saturday.
And in the United States, omicron is expected to become the “dominant strain” in the coming weeks, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
The United States had an average of 126,967 new cases of covid-19 per day as of this Saturday, according to the Universidad Johns Hopkins, and 14 states saw at least a 10% increase in cases in the past week compared to the prior week, the data shows.
Scientists say it is still too early to know if omicron causes a milder form of covid-19 disease, but regardless, it will put pressure on the healthcare system.
“Why would you go into that kind of battle completely unarmed?” Reiner said. “Our vaccines will protect you, especially if you have a triple vaccine. People who are not vaccinated should start the process now. Go to your pharmacy and get vaccinated,” he said.
Reiner, a professor of medicine and surgery at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, said he believes almost everyone will be exposed to the virus, although those who are triply vaccinated will not necessarily contract COVID-19.
“But I don’t think we should just put our hands up in the air and say, ‘Look, we’ll all get it, so let’s just let it burn across the country.’ If we do that, our hospitals will be saturated, “he said.
Reiner said that even if omicron ends up causing a less serious infection than delta, the sheer number of cases it could generate could overwhelm American hospitals.
“We need to protect our health care system, and that is why all Americans should mask themselves and get vaccinated right now because our health care infrastructure is at stake right now,” he explained.
According to CDC data, 61.4% of the total US population is fully vaccinated and 29.1% of these have received a booster.
More than 69,000 people are hospitalized with covid-19 in the United States and more than 20% of all ICU beds are occupied by patients with covid-19, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
New York breaks record for new daily cases
On Saturday, New York State broke its record for the highest count of covid-19 cases in a single day since the start of the pandemic for the second day in a row, and Governor Kathy Hochul’s office reported 21,908 positive cases of covid-19, compared to 21,027 on Friday.
Covid-19 hospitalizations across the state remained relatively low at 3,909, compared to a peak of 18,825 covid-19-related hospitalizations on April 13, 2020, based on available data.
“This is not like the beginning of the pandemic,” Hochul said in a statement Saturday. “We are prepared for the winter swell because we have the tools at our disposal.”
In New York City, positive covid-19 cases more than doubled from the start of the week from December 13 to Saturday, although covid-19 hospitalizations remained roughly the same throughout the week with a slight Increase in hospitalizations reported Saturday, according to data released by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office.
“We’re definitely going to have a tsunami of cases,” Dr. Craig Spencer, Director of Global Health and Emergency Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, told CNN on Saturday. “We know that we had a record level of cases here in New York City today that only dwarfs yesterday’s record level of cases. We know that many people will test positive.”
The increase has already affected the entertainment sector in the city.
This week’s “Saturday Night Live” was left without an audience and broadcast mostly prerecorded segments due to the increase in COVID-19 cases.
The move followed the cancellation of some Broadway performances and Radio City Rockettes “Christmas Spectacular” shows for the remainder of the year.
Hospitals feel the impact
New York isn’t the only state grappling with coronavirus-related data.
California health officials said Friday they were seeing hospitalization numbers begin to rise, emphasizing the need for vaccines and booster shots.
In New Jersey, “we’re seeing long lines outside our testing clinic, more demand than we’ve seen in many months for testing, because people are getting sick,” said Dr. Shereef Elnahal, president and CEO of the Newark University Hospital, to CNN’s Amara Walker.
Hospitalizations have doubled in the past two weeks, he said, and while 46% of those hospitalized earlier this week had been vaccinated, they had not received a booster shot.
Dr. Rob Davidson, an emergency room physician in Michigan, said he’s seeing a “pretty critical increase in delta right now.” And while you watch the test positivity rate drop slightly, Covid-19 patients stay in the hospital for extended periods.
Dr. Marc Gorelick, who runs Children’s Minnesota Hospital, said the facility is already struggling to cope with the numbers.
“When you’re on top of a surge where you’re already at 90%, 95% capacity, those extra … preventable covid-19 patients coming in is what pushes the system over the edge. And that’s what we’re looking at it here in Minnesota, “Gorelick told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Friday.
In Oregon, officials are forecasting a bleak start to 2022.
“We can expect an increase in hospitalizations in Oregon by mid-January, with infections starting earlier,” said Dr. Peter Graven, a data scientist at Oregon Health and Science University. “Combined with its high transmissibility, we expect omicron to generate a large increase in the number of Oregonians who will become seriously ill and will likely need a hospital.”
Scientists work to measure the gravity of omicron
As hospitals feel the burden of COVID-19 infections, scientists are rushing to gather more information on the severity of the omicron variant.
The CDC reported last week that 43 cases of omicron were analyzed and that most of those people had mild symptoms. Most had been vaccinated, with about a third of the total group boosted.
“We have seen cases of omicron among those who are vaccinated and boosted, and we believe that these cases are milder or asymptomatic due to the protection of the vaccine. What we do know is that we have the tools to protect ourselves against covid-19. We have Vaccines. We have backup, “Walensky said during a meeting of the covid-19 response team at the White House this Friday.
Two-week data from South African cases seemed to indicate that omicron was milder in severity. But UK epidemiologists said this week they found no evidence that omicron is causing milder disease there, although the team from Imperial College London also said there wasn’t much data to go on yet.
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Friday that it is still too early to assume that omicron will cause milder disease and that regardless, people should protect themselves with vaccines and boosters. .
But he said it was “clear that omicron is an extremely contagious variant, doubling every two to four days.”
“The problem, of course, is if this is so contagious, and we may see hundreds of thousands of cases every day, maybe even a million cases in an omicron day, even if it’s a little less serious, there will be a lot of people in the hospital and our hospitals are already really on the edge with delta, especially in the northern part of the country, “explained Collins.
CNN’s Christina Maxouris, Artemis Moshtaghian, and Laura Studley contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism