CDC: COVID cases drop, but ‘softer doesn’t mean softer’

Jan. 26, 2022 — Despite declining national numbers, Americans must not lose sight of the ongoing public health crisis as hospitals remain overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, many of whom are unvaccinated, said the director of the CDC, Rochelle Walensky, MD, during a White Briefing from home Wednesday.

“While it is encouraging that Omicron appears to cause less severe disease, it is important to remember that we still face a high overall burden of disease,” she said. “Hospitalizations have increased rapidly in a short time, straining local health systems. Softer does not mean softer.

Daily COVID-19 case rates are 5 times higher with Omicron than with the Delta variant. But because many Americans are vaccinated and boosted — and Omicron appears to cause less severe illness — hospitalizations and deaths have remained much lower, given the number of infections, Walensky said.

“When you look at the Delta period last winter, as cases increase, hospitalizations and deaths increase the same way,” she said. “Surprisingly, when we compare last month, when Omicron was the dominant variant, we see a clear separation between cases, hospital admissions and deaths.”

The 7-day average of daily cases this week is 692,400, down 6% from last week. Hospital admissions were down 8% to 19,800.

During the briefing, White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, described a hypothetical outcome for the pandemic — and it doesn’t imply the elimination of COVID-19.

“We want a level of control that doesn’t disrupt us in society, dominate our lives, or prevent us from doing the things that we typically do in a normal existence,” he said. “Most importantly, focus on disease severity, hospitalizations and deaths that fall into the category that we generally accept with other respiratory viruses.”

But, he said, “we’re not there yet.”

Fauci also referred to ongoing research into a “pan-coronavirus vaccine,” or a vaccine effective against all variants. The Fauci-led National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has invested more than $300 billion in COVID-19 research, including $1.5 billion for vaccine research.

Some pan-coronavirus vaccine candidates are already in phase I trials, he said. But he warned it will be years before these are allowed.

“Remember,” he urged, “Current vaccine regimens already provide strong protection.”

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