1 of 5 | The Omicron variant was linked with a surge in hospitalizations nationally, based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 25 (UPI) -- The emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 led to a record number of infections, emergency room visits and hospital admissions over a seven-day period earlier this month, according to data released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, the totals for those who needed treatment in a hospital intensive care unit, as well as deaths from the virus, were lower than at other points of the pandemic, when the Delta variant was the predominant strain, the data showed.
For the seven-day period ending Jan. 15, an average of nearly 800,000 COVID-19 cases, more than 48,000 ER visits and nearly 22,000 hospital admissions were reported daily across the country, the agency said.
These were all highs for any seven-day period since the pandemic began in March 2020, it said.
However, the average number of deaths caused by the virus per day that week, nearly 1,900, was lower than rates reported during the Delta surge, which started last spring, according to agency researchers.
In addition, slightly more than 30% of all ICU beds at hospitals across the country were occupied with COVID-19 patients, a lower percentage than seen during the Delta surge, they said.
"Emergence of the Omicron variant in December 2021 led to a substantial increase in COVID-19 cases in the United States," the CDC researchers wrote.
Still, despite the strain on the healthcare system, "disease severity appears to be lower than compared with previous high disease-transmission periods," they said.
The Omicron variant of COVID-19 first first was identified in South Africa in November.
Although more contagious than previous strains, data from the African nation suggested that it caused milder disease.
Even so, public health experts have feared that with more people getting sick, the new variant could still overwhelm the healthcare system in the United States.
The new CDC data compared cases, hospitalizations and deaths during the Omicron surge, from Dec. 19 through Jan. 15, with those of the peaks of other waves, including the one caused by the Delta variant, from Aug. 25 through Sept. 1.
During the peak of the winter 2020-21 wave, from Jan. 1 through Jan. 21 of last year, up to 250,000 cases were reported daily, with nearly 16,500 people hospitalized per day, on average, due to the virus, the data showed.
More than 3,400 deaths also were reported daily across the country, the CDC said.
At the height of the Delta surge last fall, there were more than 164,000 cases reported daily, with just over 12,000 daily hospitalizations and more than 1,900 reported deaths, on average, per day, the agency said.
With Omicron, the week ending Jan. 15, saw nearly 798,976 confirmed cases daily and the nearly 21,586 daily hospitalizations, according to the CDC.
However, daily deaths averaged 1,854, lower than both of the previous waves, it said.
"Although disease severity appears lower with the Omicron variant, the high volume of hospitalizations can strain local healthcare systems and the average daily number of deaths remains substantial," the CDC researchers wrote.
"This underscores the importance of national emergency preparedness, specifically, hospital surge capacity and the ability to adequately staff local healthcare systems," they said.