“We’re seeing a surge in patients again, unprecedented in this pandemic,” said Dr. James Phillips, chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University Hospital.
“What’s coming for the rest of the country could be very serious, and they need to be prepared.”
“Our health system is at a very different place than we were in previous surges,” emergency medicine professor Dr. Esther Choo said.
“This strain is so infectious that I think all of us know many, many colleagues who are currently infected or have symptoms and are under quarantine,” said Choo, associate professor at Oregon Health and Science University.
“We have extremely high numbers of just lost health care workers,” she added. “We’ve lost at least 20% of our health care workforce, probably more.”
Across the country, the rapid spread of Omicron variant has impacted businesses, transportation and emergency services.
“Omicron is truly everywhere,” said Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency medicine professor at Brown University’s School of Public Health.
“What I am so worried about over the next month or so is that our economy is going to shut down — not because of policies from the federal government or from the state governments, but rather because so many of us are ill,” Ranney said
In Ohio, the mayor of Cincinnati declared a state of emergency after a spike in Covid-19 infections led to staffing shortages in the city’s fire department.
The mayor said if the problem goes unaddressed, it would “substantially undermine” first responders’ readiness levels.
Vast majority of patients are unvaccinated, experts say
While Americans who have been fully vaccinated and boosted might get infected with Omicron, they are unlikely to get seriously ill, health experts say.
“What we’re seeing is that our vaccinated patients aren’t getting sick, and our frail, multiple comorbidities-vaccinated patients do need admission, but their admissions are shorter and they’re able to leave the hospital after several days,” said Dr. Catherine O’Neal, chief medical officer at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“Our unvaccinated patients are the sickest patients,” she said. “They’re the patients most likely to be on the ventilator.
“We’re running out of tests,” O’Neal added. “We’re running out of room. We’re inundated in the ER.”
And about 33.4% of those who are fully vaccinated have received their booster doses, the data shows.
“If you’re unvaccinated, that’s the group still at highest risk,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “The adults that are being admitted to my institution, the vast majority continue to be unvaccinated.”
Some school districts go remote after record-high child Covid-19 hospitalizations
New pediatric Covid-19 hospitalizations reached a record high just as millions of students prepared to return to school.
For the week ending December 28, an average of 378 children were admitted to hospitals every day with Covid-19, according to CDC data.
That’s a 66% jump from the previous week. It also breaks the previous record of 342 set during the Delta variant surge at the beginning of the school year.
With the more transmissible Omicron variant, some schools might want to postpone in-person learning, pediatrician Dr. Peter Hotez said.
“It may be the case in some school districts, where things are so raging right now in terms of Omicron for the next couple of weeks, and it may be prudent to delay things a couple more weeks,” said Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
“It’s going to be a very challenging time,” Hotez said. “People are going to have to be patient.”
In Georgia, at least five large Atlanta-area school districts will be starting class remotely next week.
“Due to the rapid rise in positive cases in the metro Atlanta area, students will begin virtual classes Tuesday, Jan. 4 through Friday, Jan. 7,” Atlanta Public Schools (APS) said Saturday.
“Our current plan is to resume in-person instruction on Monday, Jan. 10,” the school district said.
“All APS staff are required to report to their work location Monday, Jan. 3, for mandatory COVID-19 surveillance testing, unless they are ill. The data collected from staff testing will be used for future planning.”
The move, APS said, will allow students and staff to be tested and to isolate and quarantine as needed, according to CDC and health department’s guidelines.
Rockdale County Public Schools will begin the new year in “a virtual/remote learning environment,” the district’s website said. In-person learning is scheduled to resume January 10.
And Clayton County Public Schools will have “independent virtual learning at home” through Friday, the school district said. In-person learning is expected to resume January 10.
CNN’s Alta Spells and Claudia Dominguez contributed to this report.