In February 2021, Dr. Craig Spencer in a Medium after that he was as excited as anyone to see the end of this pandemic. Fortunately, that may be in sight.”
“Covid cases and hospitalizations are declining,” wrote Spencer, director of Global Health in Emergency Medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. “Vaccinations are coming into play. So, what happens next?”
The next, of course, was more Covid-19.
So – nearly a year later – while Spencer is encouraged by the fact that the growth in new Covid cases has slowed in parts of the country, he has been humbled by previous waves and is not ready to face the beginning of the end. to celebrate the pandemic.
“It’s not like you go to the top of Everest, throw a little party, and then start the descent and take off your oxygen mask,” Spencer said. “There is still risk when you start your descent, and I think it’s important that we all stay on our toes and be aware of that.”
While the United States has broken records for Covid hospital admissions and cases in the past month due to the highly contagious Omicron variant, the Northeast has seen a drop in the number of daily new Covid cases or a slowdown in the rate of increase, leading to predictions that the worst of the pandemic will soon be over.
But infectious disease experts say that’s premature due to the virus’s unpredictability and the fact that it continues to rear its head and overwhelm hospitals in parts of the country.
“Yes, especially in places like New York City, Omicron spikes, but I think we have to be very careful not to confuse spikes with lows,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at New York University. “That means people going out and living their normal lives should be careful to still use mitigation measures, such as wearing higher quality masks and doing as much outdoors as possible.”
In the Northeast, the number of daily new cases has started to decline over the past week, according to data of the New York Times, but other places continue to experience a spike in cases. For example, 10 states saw the number of cases increase by more than 300% in the past two weeks.
In the United States, there was a 133% increase in cases and a 79% increase in Covid hospitalizations during that period.
“I think it’s very possible that we’re at a peak, and that would certainly be in line with a lot of modeling results in terms of timing, which predicted peaks from mid to late January, but at the same time until we get a few more days with consistent downward trends and that reflected in hospitalizations too, I would be cautious,” said Justin Lessler, a professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina.
Despite the wave’s slowdown, when Spencer worked a shift at Columbia’s emergency room in New York earlier this week, it was “as chaotic for me as it was for my colleagues in town,” he said.
That’s because the emergency room was filled with patients who were very sick with Covid in addition to people who came in for a heart attack, appendicitis or other conditions, compared to the start of the pandemic when almost all patients in the emergency room were there because of Covid. said Spencer.
There is also a significant number of providers that are unable to operate because they have tested positive for Covid.
“Emergency services have always been adaptable, but the problem we now face is not just more patients and more Covid, but also fewer caregivers and fewer places to place [patients]’ said Spencer.
In Oklahoma, a 363% increase in the past two weeks has flooded hospitals. Three hospital systems reported having no intensive care beds, according to to KFOR TV.
At OU Health in Oklahoma City, the spike in Covid cases poses a challenge to health care providers treating patients with the virus, as well as to non-Covid patients, as the hospital must take additional steps to protect them from the virus, said Dr. Dale Bratzler, the chief Covid officer.
There are also 250 staff members who are unable to work because they are in isolation due to the virus, he said.
While Bratzler hopes the state can reach its Omicron peak in the coming week, he fears the decline could be slower than other states, as only 54% of the population is fully vaccinated, compared to 73% in New York.
“I am much more concerned that we will have a substantial increase in hospital admissions in the coming weeks. We’re already stretched in our systems, and since unvaccinated people cause hospitalizations, I’m very concerned about that,” Bratzler said.
Still, Aaron Wendelboe, an epidemiologist with the OU, said he’s “a little encouraged by what’s happening in other states.”
But like other epidemiologists, Wendelboe said he’s not ready to state that we won’t see another wave like Omicron as the virus continues to mutate.
“I feel like I’m a slower learner,” he said, “because I didn’t predict this big wave so soon, but Covid continues to surprise us.”