During what has been another devastating surge of Covid-19 across the country, there is good news: Some states are starting to see infection numbers and hospitalizations drop. But it is not the case everywhere.
As cases seem to begin plateauing, Covid-19 hospitalizations in the Northeast are down by about 11% after reaching a peak about a week ago and have also dropped slightly – about 6% – in the Midwest region, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. And new Covid-19 hospital admissions are beginning to decline nationwide, a sign total hospitalizations may soon begin going down too in every part of the country.
The HHS data includes both patients who are hospitalized because of Covid-19 complications and patients who may have been admitted for something else but tested positive for Covid-19. That has been true throughout the pandemic, but the share of patients who fall into each category may have changed over time.
“All of the current data is showing very encouraging trends, with many of our key health metrics consistently and substantially declining,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday. “But we’re not out of the woods. Even though we have been able to attain considerable drops in the metrics, and they’re continuing to drop, they’re still much higher than they have been or where we need to be.”
Also this week, Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker announced the state was seeing a decline in Covid-19 hospitalizations, and ICU and ventilator usage, and in Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont said cases and hospitalizations were also going down.
And in New York, the state’s “percent positivity is in the single-digits,” for the first time since December 20, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Friday.
But in other parts of the country, a different picture. Covid-19 hospitalization numbers were up about 15% over the past week in the West and up by about 6% in the South – with many hospitals stretched thin from the surge in patients and the severe staffing shortages.
Covid-19 hospitalizations also are continuing to rise in West Virginia. Gov Jim. Justice on Friday appealed to residents to get their vaccines and boosters, saying to not do so would be a “real mistake.”
In North Carolina, where health officials say the Omicron variant “is sending record numbers of people” to hospitals, the Department of Health and Human Services and North Carolina Emergency Management requested federal support Friday for the Charlotte region to help stressed hospital systems. In a news release, health officials said hospitalization numbers could increase further this month. The vast majority of people hospitalized with the virus are not vaccinated, officials said.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Friday Covid-19 hospitalization increased to a record of 1,658, but said he is “hopeful we will see the cases go down.”
In Washington state, King County hospitals and healthcare leaders issued an “urgent plea” to residents to help relieve the pressure local healthcare systems are facing.
“While there are promising signs with cases on the decline the past few days, King County hospitals are still under tremendous strain from increased hospitalizations, staff shortages and difficulty discharging patients who no longer need care,” their news release said. “In the previous month, COVID-19 hospitalizations increased over 700 percent.”
Washington State Hospital Association President and CEO Cassie Sauer described it as “the most challenging situation we’ve seen to date” and noted the patients who are most severely impacted by the virus are almost all unvaccinated and not boosted.
“We’ve already had to cancel most surgeries — delaying care that would help someone live a better, healthier life,” the release added.
Hospitals urged residents to get vaccinated, get their booster shots, upgrade their masks and avoid crowded indoor places, among other recommendations.
CDC weighs ‘pivot’ on language on vaccinations
As the highly contagious Omicron variant continues to spread, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working to “pivot” its language around what it means to be fully vaccinated, Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a White House briefing Friday.
But the director stopped short of saying the definition of fully vaccinated needs to change, and instead focused on what it means to be “up-to-date” on Covid-19 vaccinations.
Fully vaccinated people who are eligible to receive a booster dose of vaccine but are not boosted are not considered “up-to-date” on their vaccinations, Walensky said.
“What we really are working to do is pivot the language to make sure that everybody is as up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccines as they personally could be, should be, based on when they got their last vaccine,” Walensky said.
“So, importantly, right now, we’re pivoting our language. We really want to make sure people are up-to-date,” she added.
Speaking to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the CDC has not updated its definition of “fully vaccinated” because their recommendations are about “how well you are protected rather than a definition.”
“It becomes almost a matter of semantics,” said Fauci, who noted the terminology can confuse people.
“One of the things that we’re talking about from a purely public health standpoint is how well you are protected, rather than what a definition is to get someone to be required or not required,” said Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert.
Roughly 63.3% of the US population is fully vaccinated, according to CDC data. Of those people, only about 39.5% have received their booster shots.
New studies make powerful argument for boosters
Three new large studies from the CDC highlight the importance of getting a booster.
Getting boosted was 90% effective at preventing hospitalizations during a period in December and January when Omicron was the dominant variant, according to a CDC study which looked at nearly 88,000 hospitalizations across 10 states. In comparison, getting two shots was 57% effective when it had been at least six months past the second shot.
Getting boosted was 82% effective at preventing visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers, according to the study, which looked at more than 200,000 visits in 10 states. In comparison, getting two shots was only 38% effective at preventing those visits when it had been at least six months past the second shot. The study was published Friday in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
A second study, published in the same place, concluded people with three shots were less likely to get infected with Omicron. And the third study, to be published in the medical journal JAMA, showed having a booster helped prevent people from becoming ill with Omicron.
“I think it’s the third dose that really gives you the solid, the very best protection,” Dr. William Schaffner, a longtime CDC vaccine adviser who was not involved with the studies, said.
CNN’s Mirna Alsharif, Deidre McPhillips, Katherine Dillinger,and Jacqueline Howard contributed to this report.