While studies show that there is a significantly less likely chance that someone infected with the Omicron variant will require hospitalization, Dr. Anthony Fauci during ABC's "This Week" on Sunday communicated a concern about "overrun" hospitals." While the symptoms with Omicron are "mild," it does spread rather rapidly.
When it comes to the "one thing... we all agree upon," according to Fauci, it's how contagious Omicron is, something he chose to emphasize rather than how several studies from multiple countries show the variant is less severe and leads to fewer hospitalizations.
Dr. Fauci tells @jonkarl that “we've got to be careful that we don't get complacent” about battling omicron, even if data from other countries might show a lesser degree of severity.— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) December 26, 2021
“It might still lead to a lot of hospitalizations in the United States.” https://t.co/CxSdhhlI9G pic.twitter.com/l9PeENDnwL
Some of the relevant exchange was as follows:
KARL: So in terms of Omicron, we know how wildly contagious it is, but what is your sense about how -- what do we really know about how sick people are getting from this? As you know, there was data out of South Africa that suggested that it was less than 2 percent of those that were infected were hospitalized. That compared with about 20 percent that had been hospitalized under the Delta wave. That, by the way, is a country that doesn't have, you know, anywhere near the kind of vaccination level that we have. And we saw some indications out of England too that it seems to be less severe.
What is -- are you comfortable now in saying that Omicron is --
KARL: -- wildly contagious, but not as severe a disease?
FAUCI: Well, there's one thing that's for sure that we all agree upon, that it is extraordinarily contagious. It's just outstripped even the most contagious of the previous ones, including Delta. There's no argument on anybody's part about that.
When we first saw the data from the U.K., that it was very clear that the ratio of hospitalizations to cases was lower. Interestingly, the duration of hospital stay was lower, the need for oxygen was lower. And when you’re in a demographic situation like South Africa where you have most of the people have gotten infected with prior variants, either the Delta or the Beta, that it was very likely a combination of perhaps the virus is inherently let virulent or more likely there's an underlying degree of residual protection from prior infections of those who have been infected and survived.
The data from the U.K., and particularly Scotland and England, two separate studies, really confirmed that. They're seeing less of a severity in the form of manifestations by hospitalizations. The issue that we don't want to get complacent about, Jon, is that when you have such a high volume of new infections, it might override a real diminution in severity so that if you have many, many, many more people with less level of severity, that might kind of neutralize the positive effect of having less severity when you have so many more people.
And we're particularly worried about those who are in that unvaccinated class, that, you know, tens and tens of millions of Americans who are eligible for vaccination who have not been vaccinated. Those are the most vulnerable ones when you have a virus that is extraordinarily effective in getting to people and infecting them the way Omicron is.
So even though we're pleased by the evidence from multiple countries, that it looks like there is a lesser degree of severity, we've got to be careful that we don't get complacent about that --
KARL: So --
FAUCI: -- because it might still lead to a lot of hospitalizations in the United States.
KARL: Right. So, as an individual, your chance of having severe disease and needing to go to the hospital if you -- if you get infected with Omicron might be less. Because there are so many more, the hospitals could still be overrun.
Let me --
FAUCI: That is the -- yeah, that's the concern. That's the concern.
Such a focus has been a consistent pattern for Fauci during his many Sunday show appearances. These appearances have particularly ramped up ever since Omicron was declared a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization (WHO) on November 26, after it was announced in South Africa.
As we've been reporting at Townhall since then, officials on the ground in South Africa have described Omicron symptoms as being "different" but "mild." Data from the South African Medical Research Council to do with "Tshwane District Omicron Variant Patient Profile - Early Features" mentioned, among other things, that most of the hospital cases were "incidental," meaning the admissions were for other reasons besides the person having COVID.
However, the concern with "overrun" hospitals, at least in one state, isn't exactly being helped by people getting admitted when they don't necessarily need to be.
Vermont, which is the most vaccinated state in the country, last week found itself in the news. As Olivia Lyons reported for WCAX, a local CBS outlet, "COVID-positive Vermonters with no symptoms clog up ERs."
Such people are going to the hospital because they're testing positive through a rapid test and then are looking for a PCR test.
Lyons' reporting cited commentary from Dr. Rick Hildebrant, the emergency department at the Rutland Regional Medical Center:
He says the only time to go to the ER is if you have a positive test and are very sick.
Hildebrant says the flood of asymptomatic people is preventing others in need of immediate care from getting it.
“It’s not so much the beds that are the precious resource, it’s the staff at this time. So we have to have some of our clinical staff providing care to those people and they can’t provide care to the folks in the ER,” Hildebrant explained.
He says by going to the emergency department, you are also potentially exposing yourself to someone with COVID who is very sick.
This phenomenon did not get mentioned during Sunday's segment, though. As Landon reported earlier on Sunday, Fauci also commented on vaccine mandates for domestic flights, saying that "anything that could get people more vaccinated would be welcome."