Omicron causing less severe illness, study suggests

New data from Southern California provides further evidence that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus causes less severe disease than its cousin Delta, the culprit behind last summer’s wave.

A preliminary study based on medical records from nearly 70,000 Kaiser Permanente patients in Southern California “noted a significantly reduced risk of serious clinical sequelae in patients infected with the Omicron variant compared to Delta,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study — which included more than 52,000 Omicron cases and nearly 17,000 Delta cases within the Kaiser system from November 30 to January 1 — noticed, thatCompared to patients infected with Delta, patients with Omicron were 53% less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19, 74% less likely to be admitted to the ICU and the 91% less likely to die from the disease.

For patients who were hospitalized, the median length of stay was 1.5 days for patients infected with Omicron and five days for those who had Delta.

Another sign of Omicron’s lighter touch: none of the patients who had it required mechanical ventilation.

The results were published Tuesday on MedRxiv, a website where researchers share preliminary findings. The study was not reviewed by independent scientists.

“The data in this study is consistent with what we are seeing from Omicron in other countries, including South Africa and the UK, and provides some understanding of what we can expect in the coming weeks as this country experiences a peak in cases is predicted,” Walensky said during a briefing on Wednesday.

The new study is the latest to show that Omicron is milder overall compared to Delta. Still, the variant is spreading widely and hospitals are seeing an influx of coronavirus-positive patients.

Omicron is the dominant strain of coronavirus in the United States, accounting for an estimated 98% of new cases nationwide, according to the CDC.

Los Angeles County hospitals are scrambling to provide medical care, hampered by staff shortages far worse than last winter’s coronavirus surge.

Many healthcare workers burned out by the pandemic have quit and many who remain have tested positive for the virus and are isolating at home. And healthcare facilities are busier this year because of greater demand for non-COVID-19 care.

In light of the recent spike in cases, Kaiser Permanente Southern California is temporarily postponing all elective surgeries that require hospitalization, it announced Wednesday.

The hospital system will continue to provide emergency surgeries, urgent procedures, including those involving cancer patients or those whose medical conditions would deteriorate if delayed, and elective outpatient surgeries that do not require an overnight stay in the hospital, said the regional director of medical quality, Dr. Nancy Gin.

“We will continue to do everything we can to minimize the impact on our members and the public,” Gin said. Omicron causing less severe illness, study suggests

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