Omicron Spares U.S. ICU’s So Far, Mirroring South Africa


U.S. hospitals are so far seeing significantly fewer severe outcomes from the omicron wave than they saw in past Covid-19 spikes, mirroring the experience of South Africa and the U.K. Even New York, the uber-dense site of one of the nation’s worst outbreaks, is seeing similar results.

The U.S. is reporting a weekly average of 485,363 cases, about twice the peak of last winter, and true prevalence is projected to be far higher. But U.S. hospitals have just 64% of the Covid patients in adult intensive-care beds as they did at last winter’s peak, and hospital deaths with Covid are around 52% of last winter’s worst period.

In the U.K., the general pattern of lower hospitalization has held up so far even as cases surged, as the Financial Times’ John Burn-Murdoch showed Tuesday. The data adds to a body of evidence that shows vaccinations and the characteristics of omicron itself are leading to less severe illness and death than in previous waves.

In New York, the results are similar. Covid ICU beds and deaths are running at about 63% and 53% of last winter’s peak, when looking at the seven-day average of the metrics.

Public health officials in the U.S. are hoping the omicron wave will burn out fast as it did in other places. South Africa’s seven-day average in new cases began to decline about 30 days after the surge began in earnest, and New York is about a month out from its first detected case in early December.