Covid US: Ex FDA chief doesn’t expect rising hospitalizations despite Omicron-fuelled surge in cases

Americans might be in the midst of another Covid surge, with pandemic-related restrictions lifted around the country and the highly infectious ‘stealth’ variant rapidly spreading. Increases in cases are unlikely to translate into hospitalizations or deaths, some experts believe, and the country should be able to weather this storm with ease.

Dr Scott Gottlieb, former director of the Food and Drug Administration and current board member at Pfizer, told CNBC’s Squawk Box on Friday that despite daily case figures remaining relatively low, there are likely many cases going undetected.

Whether because of the prevalence of at-home testing, the high amount of asymptomatic cases or general ambivalence to Covid in the population, it is likely that a majority of active cases are not being recorded in official figures.

As of Friday, the nation is recording 28,049 cases per day, officially an eight percent drop over the past week. The figure that matters most, deaths, are down 13 percent over the last seven days, to 576 per day.  

‘There’s a surge under way no question about it and we’re not picking up cases cause most people are testing at home, not reporting the cases,’ Gottlieb said.

Dr Scott Gottlieb (pictured), former director of the FDA, says it is likely that a Covid surge is happening in the U.S.

Dr Scott Gottlieb (pictured), former director of the FDA, says it is likely that a Covid surge is happening in the U.S.

Covid cases are rising in 28 states over the past two weeks, according to officials data, but daily infection numbers still remain so low across the country that slight upticks were inevitable, and not yet a cause for major concern.

Due to the highly transmissible, yet mild, nature of the Omicron variant, health officials in the U.S. have pivoted from valuing case figures as the primary indicator of the current state of the pandemic to hospitalizations. 

As long as hospitals are not overwhelmed, officials are fine with some circulation of the virus that would be near impossible to prevent anyways.

‘I think what we need to watch is hospitalizations,’ Gottlieb said, noting that small increases in some parts of the country are not enough to be alarmed about yet.

‘We haven’t really seen them go up, we know it’s a lagging indicator, you’ve seen some indication of rising hospitalizations in New York but off a very low baseline.’

The surge that likely is occurring may not as damaging as the one that struck America over winter, Gottlieb believes.

‘Its quite possible that… we’ll endure this surge. I don’t think its gonna last much longer, we’re well into this right now,’ he said. 

‘As the weather warms this will start to abate. It could be that we endure this surge without seeing hospitalizations go up measurably at all.’

Like the surge that began at the end of last year, the Omicron variant is responsible for the current increase in cases, though this time it is the BA.2 lineage.

Titled the ‘stealth’ variant because of its ability to avoid some sequencing efforts, the BA.2 lineage of the Omicron variant is the most infectious strain of Covid discovered yet and is now dominant in the U.S. – and much of Europe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported earlier this week that the strain now makes up 72 percent of sequenced Covid cases in America, overtaking the BA.1 version of Omicron that dominated the winter season.

As a whole, the Omicron variant makes up 100 percent of sequenced cases in America, totally snuffing out the Delta variant that came before it.

The millions of Americans who were infected with BA.1 from November to February still have natural immunity against BA.2, meaning that those who are currently being infected are those who managed to avoid the devastating Covid wave that started the year.

‘The people who are getting infected right now with BA.2 are people who weren’t infected with BA.1 and a lot of them weren’t infected because they were taking steps to prevent themselves from being infected,’ Gottlieb explained. 

‘You’ve got to surmise that someone who so far has been able to protect themselves from infection is likely someone who is exercising caution. 

‘They’re likely someone who is vaccinated, they’re likely someone who tests early, some who seeks out the therapeutics. They’re more likely to be a vigilant patient.’

Because of these factors, Americans who are infected right now are less likely to end up in the hospital, and even less likely to end up dying from the virus.

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