(NewsNation Now) — As COVID-19 cases climb to unprecedented highs, U.S. health officials are urging people to keep New Year’s gatherings small and vaccinated.
“If your plans are to go to a 40-50 person New Year’s Eve party with all the bells and whistles and everybody hugging and kissing and wishing each other a happy New Year, I would strongly recommend that this year we do not do that,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told NewsNation’s Evan Lambert on Wednesday.
Fauci will join “Morning in America” live at 7 a.m. ET Thursday to discuss the surge in cases, and how the pandemic tide might turn. You can submit a question for him to answer here.
Some have suggested using testing to keep events safe, but supply constraints mean that not everyone who wants a test can find one. A drive-thru test site in Miami featured wait times of three hours or more.
Kristin Englund with the Cleveland Clinic said PCR tests processed in a lab are best to confirm a diagnosis, but at-home antigen tests are good enough to tell if someone is contagious.
In all, the cocktail of the omicron variant, holiday gatherings and inadequate testing has led to a record average of 265,000 cases per day in the U.S.
The number of Americans now hospitalized with COVID-19 is running at around 60,000, or about half the figure seen in January, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
While hospitalizations sometimes lag behind cases, the hospital figures may reflect both the protection conferred by the vaccine and the possibility that omicron is not making people as sick as previous variants.
COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have climbed over the past two weeks from an average of 1,200 per day to around 1,500.
Public health experts will be closely watching the numbers in the coming week for indications of the vaccines’ effectiveness in preventing serious illness, keeping people out of the hospital and relieving strain on exhausted health care workers, said Bob Bednarczyk, a professor of global health and epidemiology at Emory University.
CDC data already suggests that the unvaccinated are hospitalized at much higher rates than those who have gotten inoculated, even if the effectiveness of the shots decreases over time, he said.
“If we’re able to weather this surge with hopefully minimal disruptions to the overall health care system, that is a place where vaccines are really showing their worth,” Bednarczyk said.
It’s highly unlikely that hospitalization numbers will ever rise to their previous peak, said Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School Public Health. Vaccines and treatments developed since last year have made it easier to curb the spread of the virus and minimize serious effects among people with breakthrough infections.
“Its going to take some time for people to get attuned to the fact that cases don’t matter the same way they did in the past,” Adalja said. “We have a lot of defense against it.”
But even with fewer people hospitalized compared with past surges, the virus can wreak havoc on hospitals and health care workers, he added.
“In a way, those hospitalizations are worse because they’re all preventable,” he said.