Hospitalizations take center stage in COVID-19 fight

Public health leaders are increasingly recommending focusing on COVID-19 hospitalizations instead of cases to steer public health guidance. 

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottilieb, MD, centered the role of hospitals in assessing the severity of the omicron variant. He told CBS Jan. 2 that "there's a very clear decoupling between cases and hospitalizations."

Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, echoed Dr. Gottlieb's view. 

"As you get further on and the infections become less severe, it is much more relevant to focus on the hospitalizations as opposed to the total number of cases," Dr. Fauci said on ABC Jan. 2. He warned, however, of the potential strain hospitalizations could place on health professionals and health systems across the nation.

Hospitals are already starting to feel some of that strain, with pediatric hospital admissions for COVID-19 rising 66 percent last week, hitting a record high average of 378 daily admissions for the week of Dec. 22-28, according to CDC data

"The majority of our hospitalized kids are in the hospital because they are sick with COVID symptoms," Roberta DeBiasi, MD, infectious disease chief at Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C., told Bloomberg. "We occasionally have someone who, for instance, was here for surgery or trauma and was noted to be positive for COVID, but that is not very common."

Nearly all children who are currently hospitalized and severely ill from COVID-19 are unvaccinated, Dr. Fauci said during a Dec. 30 NewsNation interview. Children younger than 5 are not yet eligible for vaccination. 

As of Jan. 2, total COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 93,322 representing a 35 percent increase over the previous 14 days, according to The New York Times. In comparison, daily average cases in the nation were 405,470 on Jan. 2, a 204 percent increase over the past 2 weeks. 

To more successfully gauge how the nation is fairing, numerous health officials have recently made the same argument as Drs. Gottlieb and Fauci, especially as omicron spreads in a different landscape than earlier surges — one with vaccines, tests and, soon, the availability of oral treatments.

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