New virus cases start to slow in US cities where Omicron first hit

At another dark time in the pandemic in the United States — with nearly 800,000 new cases a day, deaths on the rise, and federal medical...


At another dark time in the pandemic in the United States — with nearly 800,000 new cases a day, deaths on the rise, and federal medical teams rolling out to overwhelmed hospitals — glimmers of progress have finally begun to appear. In a handful of places that were among the first to see an increase in the Omicron variant last month, reports of new coronavirus infections have begun to level off or decline.

Daily case reports have dropped rapidly around Cleveland, Newark and Washington, DC, each of which has seen record highs over the past month. There were also warning signs Chicago, New York, Porto Rico and hard-hit ski resorts in Colorado where cases were plateauing or starting to drop.

The slowing of the spread in these places was good news, raising the possibility that a national peak of the Omicron wave is approaching. But most of the country continued to see explosive growth in virus cases, with some western and southern states reporting a 400% increase in the past two weeks. Officials have also warned that hospitalizations and deaths lag actual infections, meaning that even in places where new cases have started to decline, it will still be weeks before the full impact of Omicron does. be known.

“We are very far from being off the hook,” said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health, who told reporters he was encouraged by the first indications of a slowdown in some parts of his condition. But he warned: “If we have learned one thing about Covid, it is that it is extraordinarily unpredictable. And things can change drastically and quickly.

Just seven weeks ago, scientists in South Africa alerted the world to the fast-spreading variant of Omicron, and a month ago that the variant began to gain a foothold in the United States. As cases hit record highs these days, scientists have found that Omicron tends to cause less severe disease in many people than earlier forms of the virus, and that vaccines, although less protective against infection, continue to provide a strong defense against critical illnesses. disease and death.

Yet the speed and scale of Omicron’s surge disrupted American life and taxed a healthcare system that was already strained by a fall surge driven by the Delta variant. Across the country, more than 1,800 deaths are reported every day, an increase of around 50% over the past two weeks. Colleges and some school districts have returned to online teaching, bus routes were disrupted after drivers tested positive, and health systems grappled with an increase in cases among employees.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers said Thursday National Guard members would be trained as nursing assistants and then deployed to understaffed nursing homes. In Omaha, where the Nebraska Attorney General sued the county health director for a new mask mandate, a major hospital said it was activate a crisis plan this would limit appointments and reschedule surgeries due to the increased number of cases. And at a small hospital in Canton, SD, officials said, four of eight nurses who usually treat patients on the floor had been discharged with the virus at some point last week.

“What we’re gearing up for right now is really to do whatever we can to avoid a workforce shortage,” said Dr Jeremy Cauwels, chief medical officer at Sanford Health, in Upper -Midwest, where more than 400 hospital system workers were off work with the virus this week.

Christina Ramirez, a biostatistician at the University of California, Los Angeles, said it was too early to tell where the United States stood. Omicron passed and peaked in South Africa in about a month, but countries like Denmark and Germany are more like a “jagged sawtooth,” she said. “You have a few days where it goes down, up and down again.”

“We’ve been fooled by the virus before,” Dr Ramirez said. “The next two weeks will be very revealing.”

Even as some cities saw new cases slow, reports of infections continued to rise sharply nationwide. Around 150,000 people with the virus are hospitalized across the country, more than at any other time during the pandemic. This data includes patients who were hospitalized for other reasons and found to have Covid.

On several occasions throughout the pandemic, outbreaks caused by new variants caused cases to rise steadily for a period of time before falling back. Scientists suggest that both biology and behavior contribute to this pattern. As cases increase, people may become more cautious, and as more people become infected, the virus will have a harder time finding susceptible hosts. Because Omicron spreads so quickly, this cycle could be faster than previous surges.

Complicating experts’ understanding of the trajectory of Omicron’s push in the United States have been questions about reporting new cases. People are turning more and more to home tests to confirm their infections, and many of them are not counted in the official data. But the trend lines of cases, which just a week ago showed rapid growth almost everywhere in the country, remain useful to describe the general pattern.

In Chicago, Dr. Allison Arwady, the public health commissioner, said Thursday she was “much less worried than I was three, four or five days ago” about the city’s outlook. With cases reaching record highs in Chicago, a labor dispute between city hall and the teachers’ union classes canceled for a week. With the start of the school year on Thursday, there were signs that reports of new cases and test positivity could level off, even as hospitalizations continued to rise.

“It’s still too early to be able to say clearly that this is the peak, we are coming down,” Dr Arwady said. “But I think we’re seeing signs of definite flattening on a lot of different metrics.”

New York City has averaged about 38,000 new infections a day over the past week, down slightly in recent days but still near the highest rate of the pandemic. Governor Kathy Hochul of New York said this week that it “looks like we might hit that peak”, but transmission has remained high.

At Newark University Hospital, the number of Covid patients has remained roughly steady at 150 for the past five days. Dr Shereef Elnahal, the hospital’s president and chief executive, said he hoped the rapid rise in hospitalizations since late December had finally leveled off.

“With all the caveats, God willing knock on wood, we are starting to see a plateau in daily hospitalizations,” Dr Elnahal said.

These trends are more pronounced in some other cities. In San Juan, PR, reports of new cases are down 17% over the past two weeks. In the county that includes Cleveland, new case reports dropped 49% in two weeks. washington d.c., is averaging 1,700 new cases a day, down from a peak of more than 2,100 in early January.

“I think it’s a real leveling, but still with appalling transmission rates,” said Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.

The slowdown in cases in some places has not alleviated the immediate crisis in many hospitals across the country. President Biden said Thursday he was sending 120 additional military medical personnel to six states — Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island — where hospitals have been overrun.

Mr Biden also said he was directing his staff to purchase an additional 500 million coronavirus home tests for distribution to Americans, doubling the government’s previous purchase. It was still unclear when the first of these tests would be available.

Omicron began to rise before Christmas in urban centers in the eastern half of the country, including many places where daily case counts have recently begun to decline. But much of the United States, particularly the West and rural parts of the South and Midwest, didn’t see a similar spike before the New Year. In those areas, daily cases continue to rise rapidly.

In Oregon and Utah, new case reports have increased by more than 450% in the past two weeks. Los Angeles County, California., is averaging around 40,000 cases a day, down from 25,000 a week ago and 5,500 before Christmas. Arkansas, which averaged less than 1,000 cases a day before Christmas, is now reporting more than 7,000 a day. In Louisiana, cases and hospitalizations have both increased by more than 200% in the past two weeks.

“It’s not forever,” said Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. “At some point we’ll peak in this push like we’ve done before and we’ll start to come down the other side, but frankly we’re not there yet.”

Whenever the Omicron wave finally recedes, it’s unclear how safe the nation might be from future outbreaks – whether small and sporadic or more widespread.

“I think that’s the million dollar question,” said Bertha Hidalgo, an epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Hopefully we don’t see a worrying new variant soon and that the immunity we’re building against Omicron is long-lasting.”

Evidence from earlier variants suggests that immunity to natural infection only lasts so long, Dr Hidalgo added.

Across the country, officials in places where the data gave glimmers of hope were taking a cautious approach to interpreting those numbers.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said Wednesday it was “too early to tell” if the worst of Omicron was over in his condition. Statewide hospitalizations had fallen slightly on a recent day, but it was unclear if that would become a trend.

“You really want to see a steady decline,” Dr. Ezike said. “I’ll be the first to announce it when we can say it with enough confidence. Fingers and toes crossed, but I just don’t want to get ahead of us.

Michael D. Shear and Tracey Tuly contributed report.

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Newsrust - US Top News: New virus cases start to slow in US cities where Omicron first hit
New virus cases start to slow in US cities where Omicron first hit
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