Dr. Ashish Jha: Time to focus on COVID hospitalizations and deaths, not cases

The daily count of new COVID-19 cases has been the chief metric by which health officials and the general public gauge virus transmission. The lower severity of the omicron variant invites a change, in which hospitalizations and deaths should be the metrics we lean on most, according to Ashish Jha, MD.

"We have to do a shift," Dr. Jha, dean of Brown University's School of Public Health in Providence, R.I., said on ABC's "This Week" Dec. 26. "Look, for two years infections always preceded hospitalizations, which preceded deaths. So you could look at infections and know what was coming. Even through the delta wave that was true, because it was largely unvaccinated people getting infected."

"Omicron changes that. This is the shift we've been waiting for in many ways, where we're moving to a phase where if you're vaccinated, and particularly if you're boosted … you might get an infection. It might be a couple of days of not feeling so great, but you're going to bounce back. That's very different than what we have seen in the past."

As of Dec. 29, the number of new COVID-19 cases in the United States increased 126 percent over the past 14 days, according to the New York Times' tracker. Hospitalizations increased 11 percent in that same timeframe, while deaths fell by 3 percent. 

It's worth noting that the holidays will cause reporting gaps and backlogs throughout this week and next for testing, case and death numbers. Hospitalizations are the one data point that is less volatile to holiday slowdowns given that hospitals do not get holidays off.

"Obviously, we can continue to track infections among unvaccinated people, because those people will end up in the hospital at the same rate, but we really have to focus on hospitalizations and deaths now," said Dr. Jha. 

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