As Omicron sweeps the country, New York state offers a glimmer of hope

As the Omicron variant sweeps the country — pressing many hospitals into crisis mode — data from New York is offering a glimmer of hope.

The state is “turning the corner on the winter surge,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said Friday.

After a peak positivity rate of 23% on January 3, it’s now 16.3% and Covid-19 hospitalizations have also started to decline, she said at a news conference.

“It is still very high, but this will eventually catch up with the trend that is just beginning,” Hochul said.

She reported 49,027 new Covid-19 cases, adding that this “is a very positive trend” as the state reported over 90,000 cases just a week ago.

Nearly two weeks ago, as New Yorkers returned to work after the New Year’s holiday, Hochul’s message was far grimmer, warning the state was “not in a good place” due to the rapid spread of the virus.

We fully anticipate on top of the surge that has already been ongoing that there’s going to be another wave that’s occurring as a result of these holidays,” she said on January 3.

On Friday, she added that residents needed to remain vigilant.

“Recap: cases are trending down, turning the corner, and we have to continue being vigilant. We’re not going to spike the football, understand that?” Hochul said.

CDC updates mask guidance

And while cases are trending lower in New York, hospitalizations for Covid-19 are at record levels nationally — 157,272 as of Friday — according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Also, two years into the pandemic, more than 1 in 5 eligible Americans have not received any dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Friday, the CDC updated its mask guidance, including clarifying that certain types of masks and respirators offer more protection from the coronavirus than others.

“Masking is a critical public health tool to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and it is important to remember that any mask is better than no mask,” the CDC said in a statement.

The updated information recommends that Americans wear the most protective mask or respirator they can find that fits well.

At least one expert wishes the guidance had come sooner.

“We have known for a year that Covid is airborne, and mask quality matters,” said CNN medical analyst and former City of Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen.

“At least wear a surgical mask with a cloth mask on top of that. Just a single layer of cloth mask is just not enough. If the guidelines had been changed months ago, we may not be where we are with Omicron,” she said.

Study: Omicron is ‘inherently milder’ than Delta among children under 5

Although the current Covid-19 wave is impacting children across the US with record high infections and school closures, a new study says that the Omicron variant is “inherently milder” among children under 5, with infection leading to “significantly less severe outcomes” than the Delta variant.

The preprint study found about a 70% reduction in hospitalizations, ICU admissions and mechanical ventilation among children infected with Omicron compared with those infected with Delta.

It also found a 29% reduction in visits to the emergency room.

About 1% of children infected with Omicron were hospitalized, compared with about 3% of children with Delta.

“Despite this encouraging result, further studies are needed to monitor the longer-term acute consequences from Omicron infection, the propensity for development of ‘long COVID,’ the rapidity of spread, potential for mutation, and how prior infections alter clinical responses,” researchers of the study wrote.

The study included about 7,000 children infected during a time when the Omicron variant was predominant and about 63,000 children infected when the Delta variant was predominant.

Data on deaths was not included, as there were few reported.

Overall, Covid-19 deaths nationally have lagged from the worst of last winter’s surge, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The US averaged 1,659 Covid-19 deaths a day over the past week, compared with a peak daily average of 3,402 on January 13, 2021.

Child hospitalizations at a record level in Alabama

In Alabama, which has one of the lowest child vaccination rates in the country, pediatric hospitalizations are at a record high.

“In the crisis of higher virus transmission with the Omicron variant, immediate measures are critical,” Alabama Department of Health District Medical Officer Dr. Wes Stubblefield said in a statement.

The department, along with the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, is urging parents to minimize children’s exposure to the virus in schools and public places, wear well-fitting masks and get vaccinated if eligible.

The state’s largest school system will go virtual next week to address the uptick in Covid-19 cases.

The number of positive cases have made it “difficult to staff many of our schools,” said Mobile County Public Schools Superintendent Chresal Threadgill.

Although students are expected to return to class on January 24, that decision will be made taking into account current Covid-19 numbers.

There were 16,035 cases of Covid-19 in Alabama schools this week with all but four of the 143 districts reporting.

Child vaccination rates are also low in Alabama. About 10.5% of children in the 5-11 age group and 35.5% in the 12-17 age group are reported to have initiated vaccinations. The rate for at least one dose nationally is 27% in the 5-11 age group and 64% in the 12-17 range, according to the American Association of Pediatrics.

Nationally, many school districts that had started remote learning due to high Covid-19 cases among students and staff are planning to return to in-person classes in the next few weeks.

In Philadelphia and New Jersey most schools will reopen on Tuesday.

Clark County School District, the largest in Nevada and the fourth largest in the US, is taking a pause to deal with staffing shortages but hopes to resume in-person classes mid next week.

And Cincinnati Public Schools will be back in class on January 24 if staffing levels are sufficient to safely reopen schools, officials said.

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