Omicron surges, but scientists say peak could be near

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NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — As the omicron variant continues to spread, COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations are reaching a level not seen since last winter.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 145,900 people were in U.S. hospitals Tuesday. This month’s total of hospitalizations so far has already passed the number from last year’s peak in January (142,246). U.S. health officials also reported 1.34 million new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the county’s highest daily number throughout the entire pandemic, according to a Reuters tally. 

The latest surge comes from the highly transmissible omicron variant. With hospitals jammed, some health care workers are calling out sick or quitting their jobs altogether due to burnout.

Dr. Steve Stitles, chief medical officer of the University of Kansas Health System, said the latest surge is pushing hospitals to the edge. 

“We know that Covid has a high mortality rate — but when we can’t get people taken care of, mortality rates for all diseases rise,” he said. 

Across the country, front-line health care workers are feeling the pressure of the COVID-19 surge.

“I’ve gone up and helped families,” said Dr. Louis Prfeta, an emergency physician in Indianapolis. “People I know, people I care about … taken ‘em of life support … watched ‘em die.”

Globally, more than 15 million new cases were reported to the World Health Organization last week, as the omicron variant rapidly replaces delta in almost all countries.

“And we know this is an underestimate,” World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a news briefing Wednesday.

As of Wednesday, 315,000,000 coronavirus cases and 5,500,000 deaths were reported worldwide, according to WHO. 

At a national level, COVID cases in the U.S. have reached nearly 63,000,000 and more than 840,000 people have died, according to data from John Hopkins University.

But scientists in the U.S. say there are early signs the crush of omicron may have peaked, though they are still uncertain how the next phase of the pandemic might unfold.

“What we see is an earlier peak than we previously estimated,” said Dr. Christopher J.L. Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle. “So, (there may be) a massive surge in infections peaking in many countries in mid-January.”

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