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Why this Covid-19 surge is ‘unprecedented in this pandemic’

<i>John Moore/Getty Images</i><br/>Dr. Peter Hotez
Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images
Dr. Peter Hotez

By Christina Maxouris and Holly Yan, CNN

The US kicked off 2022 with a massive Covid-19 surge that some experts warn will be different than any other time in the pandemic.

“We’re seeing a surge in patients again, unprecedented in this pandemic,” said Dr. James Phillips, chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University Hospital.

“What’s coming for the rest of the country could be very serious, and they need to be prepared.”

Even health care workers are getting sidelined during the rapid rise of the Omicron variant, the most contagious strain of novel coronavirus to hit the US.

“Our health system is at a very different place than we were in previous surges,” emergency medicine professor Dr. Esther Choo said.

“This strain is so infectious that I think all of us know many, many colleagues who are currently infected or have symptoms and are under quarantine,” said Choo, associate professor at Oregon Health and Science University.

“We have extremely high numbers of just lost health care workers,” she added. “We’ve lost at least 20% of our health care workforce, probably more.”

Across the country, the rapid spread of Omicron variant has impacted businesses, transportation and emergency services.

“Omicron is truly everywhere,” said Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency medicine professor at Brown University’s School of Public Health.

“What I am so worried about over the next month or so is that our economy is going to shut down — not because of policies from the federal government or from the state governments, but rather because so many of us are ill,” Ranney said

In New York, staffing issues led to the suspension of several subway lines, New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced last week.

In Ohio, the mayor of Cincinnati declared a state of emergency after a spike in Covid-19 infections led to staffing shortages in the city’s fire department.

The mayor said if the problem goes unaddressed, it would “substantially undermine” first responders’ readiness levels.

And thousands of flights have been canceled or delayed as staff and crew call out sick.

Vast majority of patients are unvaccinated, experts say

While Americans who have been fully vaccinated and boosted might get infected with Omicron, they are unlikely to get seriously ill, health experts say.

But doctors across the country say most people hospitalized for Covid-19 are unvaccinated.

“What we’re seeing is that our vaccinated patients aren’t getting sick, and our frail, multiple comorbidities-vaccinated patients do need admission, but their admissions are shorter and they’re able to leave the hospital after several days,” said Dr. Catherine O’Neal, chief medical officer at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“Our unvaccinated patients are the sickest patients,” she said. “They’re the patients most likely to be on the ventilator.

“We’re running out of tests,” O’Neal added. “We’re running out of room. We’re inundated in the ER.”

Despite a year of calls from public health experts to get vaccinated — and now boosted — only about 62% of the US population is fully vaccinated, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

And about 33.4% of those who are fully vaccinated have received their booster doses, the data shows.

“If you’re unvaccinated, that’s the group still at highest risk,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “The adults that are being admitted to my institution, the vast majority continue to be unvaccinated.”

Some school districts go remote after record-high child Covid-19 hospitalizations

New pediatric Covid-19 hospitalizations reached a record high just as millions of students prepared to return to school.

For the week ending December 28, an average of 378 children were admitted to hospitals every day with Covid-19, according to CDC data.

That’s a 66% jump from the previous week. It also breaks the previous record of 342 set during the Delta variant surge at the beginning of the school year.

With the more transmissible Omicron variant, some schools might want to postpone in-person learning, pediatrician Dr. Peter Hotez said.

“It may be the case in some school districts, where things are so raging right now in terms of Omicron for the next couple of weeks, and it may be prudent to delay things a couple more weeks,” said Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

“It’s going to be a very challenging time,” Hotez said. “People are going to have to be patient.”

In Georgia, at least five large Atlanta-area school districts will be starting class remotely next week.

“Due to the rapid rise in positive cases in the metro Atlanta area, students will begin virtual classes Tuesday, Jan. 4 through Friday, Jan. 7,” Atlanta Public Schools (APS) said Saturday.

“Our current plan is to resume in-person instruction on Monday, Jan. 10,” the school district said.

“All APS staff are required to report to their work location Monday, Jan. 3, for mandatory COVID-19 surveillance testing, unless they are ill. The data collected from staff testing will be used for future planning.”

The move, APS said, will allow students and staff to be tested and to isolate and quarantine as needed, according to CDC and health department’s guidelines.

Nearby Fulton County Schools and DeKalb County Schools also announced classes will begin online following the holiday break.

Rockdale County Public Schools will begin the new year in “a virtual/remote learning environment,” the district’s website said. In-person learning is scheduled to resume January 10.

And Clayton County Public Schools will have “independent virtual learning at home” through Friday, the school district said. In-person learning is expected to resume January 10.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Alta Spells and Claudia Dominguez contributed to this report.

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