As states struggle to control the spread of the Omicron variant, many governors and other state officials are taking a softer approach than in previous outbreaks, owing to the fact that they now have more tools to combat the virus and are increasingly aware of the economic harm that sweeping restrictions can cause.
Many decision-makers say they’re trying to avoid the harsh measures enacted during previous Covid outbreaks by encouraging vaccinations, expanding rapid testing capacity, and closely monitoring factors like hospital admissions and booster-shot uptake.
In an interview Tuesday, Republican New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said, “I’m trying to build long-term solutions,” adding that he expects the pandemic to be a part of life for a while. “So the solution isn’t to turn things on and off as they surge or don’t surge.” We have the means to deal with it.”
Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio said in an interview on Monday that he is more concerned about hospitalizations than with the number of people who tested positive for Covid-19, which was a key metric earlier.
More than 5,000 people were hospitalized in Ohio with Covid-19 on Monday, the highest number since last winter’s outbreak, but the difference now is that authorities know what’s causing the high inpatient count, with more than 90% of the patients unvaccinated, according to Republican Governor Mike DeWine.
“We’re seeing the vaccine’s power to keep people out of the hospital,” Mr. DeWine said, adding that he is encouraged by the number of people receiving vaccine shots in Ohio each day.
He has also stated that he is focused on keeping hospitals staffed, and that he has mobilized over 1,000 members of the National Guard to assist health centers struggling to cope with the rising number of Covid-19 patients.
Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire believes that data on case counts will become inaccurate as a result of many people failing to report their at-home test results to the government. “Your hospitalization rate will be the key metric,” he said. “There isn’t any gray area.” Hospitalizations have been stabilizing in New Hampshire, which also activated the National Guard to assist at health-care facilities, after the state was among the first to experience a winter surge, he said.
Many public officials praised the CDC’s decision on Monday to reduce the recommended isolation time for people infected with Covid-19 to five days from ten days, citing recent research as well as the strain on some industries caused by Omicron-related absences.
“With these updated recommendations, more Maine residents will be able to return to their lives safely and more quickly,” said Democratic Gov. Janet Mills in a statement released Monday. “This will allow us to keep our economic recovery on track, keep our children in school, and spend time with our loved ones during this critical time of year.”
Colorado has stated that it will follow the new CDC guidelines, and the California Department of Health has stated that it will do so as well “to keep our economy moving and schools open.” Mr. Sununu stated that New Hampshire intends to follow the new CDC guidelines while maintaining its own protocols in some cases.
Changes are also being considered in Michigan. A spokesman for the state’s health department said that more information would be released soon.
According to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University, states reported 512,553 cases on Monday, the most for a single day since the pandemic began, as reports resumed after a holiday hiatus. The tally brought the seven-day average of reported cases to 237,061, just 15,000 lower than the pandemic’s peak a year ago.
Although research is ongoing, a growing body of evidence suggests that Omicron causes less severe illness in people who have high levels of immunity, either from vaccines or previous infections.
Some government officials warn that the dangers of the Omicron variant are still unknown, given that hospitalizations and deaths tend to follow infections, and that a small number of serious cases among a large number of infections could overwhelm hospitals.
“We don’t really have definitive information here, and I think that’s a concern,” said Boston Public Health Commission executive director Dr. Bisola Ojikutu. She said she’s keeping a close eye on the percentage of positive local tests, as well as hospitalization rates and Covid-related ER visits.
Holiday closures made tracking Omicron’s spread difficult, especially in South Carolina, where state-run health departments were closed Monday and Tuesday.
President Biden said the federal government is expanding testing and vaccine sites, stockpiling medical equipment, and mobilizing emergency response teams in Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New Mexico during a call with governors on Monday.
He did, however, say that it would be up to state leaders to come up with and implement strategies to combat the Omicron surge. He stated, “Look, there is no federal solution.” “This is resolved on a state-by-state basis.”
Last week, New York’s Democratic governor, Kathy Hochul, eased isolation rules for fully vaccinated critical workforce members who have had breakthrough infections with no or minor symptoms.
“It’s not March of 2020,” she said at a press conference on Monday. “We have tools at our disposal, and the question is how we’re deploying them.”
In recent days, New York has seen record numbers of infections, but Covid-19 hospitalizations of 5,526 on Sunday were about 30% lower than a year ago, according to Ms. Hochul.
Nonetheless, Ms. Hochul warned that hospital stays are on the rise, and her administration pointed out on Monday that pediatric Covid-19 hospitalizations are on the rise, particularly in New York City and among the unvaccinated. In the partial week of December 19 to December 23, there were 184 pediatric Covid-19 admissions statewide, compared to 70 in the full week ending December 11; in New York City, admissions increased to 109 from 22 in the same time frame.
This week, six million Covid-19 tests will be delivered to schools in New York, and the governor has stated that she would like to see a requirement that all schoolchildren be vaccinated against the virus.
Ms. Hochul has mandated that healthcare workers be vaccinated against the virus since late September, but she said Monday that her administration decided against a mandate for public transit workers after calculating that 80% were already vaccinated, close contact with passengers was limited, and a mandate would exacerbate workforce shortages.
“These aren’t always black-and-white questions,” Ms. Hochul explained. “We can’t do anything that will create a situation where people can’t get to work in the morning because there aren’t any trains, or where healthcare workers can’t get to work in hospitals because there aren’t any trains.”
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