Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say fewer severe illnesses have resulted from the outbreak of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, despite its highly-contagious nature.
A study released this week by the federal health agency showed the number of patients admitted to intensive care units between December 19 and January 15, the period considered the peak of the omicron surge, was about 26% lower than the earlier outbreak of the delta strain, and 29% lower than last year’s surge of new COVID-19 infections during the winter months.
The CDC study also found the average hospital stay for infected patients was about 5.5 day during the omicron period, compared with 7.6 days during the delta-driven surge and about eight days during last year’s winter surge.
The researchers say the lower number of severe COVID-19 cases during the omicron surge was due to several factors, including a high number of Americans who had been vaccinated and received booster shots, along with growing levels of immunity from prior infections.
But the omicron variant has triggered a record number of daily infections and hospitalizations in the United States, pushing many hospital systems to the breaking point, along with a rising average pace of more than 2,000 deaths per day.
Long COVID studies
Two new studies have revealed who may be most susceptible to suffer from the lingering effects of a COVID-19 infection, a condition commonly known as “long COVID.”
Scientists at several U.S.-based research centers, including the University of Washington and the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, studied more than 200 patients who were infected between 2020 and 2021. They discovered four factors that may increase the chances of long COVID, including how much of the coronavirus is in a person’s system, the presence of certain antibodies that mistakenly attack the body’s health tissues, a reactivation of a common human virus that triggers mononucleosis, and the presence of Type 2 diabetes.
A separate study conducted at University Hospital Zurich discovered that low levels of certain antibodies were more common in coronavirus patients who went on to develop long COVID. Both studies concluded that treating long COVID patients with antiviral medications could help in alleviating its debilitating symptoms, such as fatigue and “brain fog,” which involves the inability to focus and memory loss.
Denmark to end restrictions
In other developments, the Reuters news agency reports that officials in Denmark have announced a plan to end all remaining COVID-19 restrictions by next week. Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said the measure includes dropping a requirement for diners to show proof of vaccination before they are allowed to enter restaurants, ending mandatory face masks for commuters taking the bus and reopening nightclubs.
Denmark posted 46,590 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, slightly below a peak of 47,831 on Friday, with the number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations rising to 918, the highest in a year.