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Covid-19: US cases and hospital admissions climb to record levels as Biden promises more tests

BMJ 2022; 376 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.o76 (Published 12 January 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;376:o76

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  1. Janice Hopkins Tanne
  1. New York

The US reported a record 1.35 million new covid-19 cases on 10 January.1 The next day nearly 146 000 people were admitted to hospital with covid-19, the highest number since the pandemic began,2 and about a quarter of US hospitals said that they had “critical staffing shortages.”3

About 95% of the surge in cases is due to the omicron variant. The number of cases reported may be an undercount because some people test themselves at home and do not report the result, while others may have asymptomatic infections.

Meanwhile, the American Red Cross has declared a “national blood crisis” due to a drop in blood donations because of the covid-19 pandemic. The charity said that it had to limit distribution of blood and platelets, prompting some hospitals to reduce the number of operations.4

Covid cases are rising in every state but are especially high in the northeastern states of Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Delaware, as well as in California in the west. About 1350 of the nation’s 3141 counties have reported their highest weekly case counts since the pandemic began.5

Two senior officials leading the US’s covid response—Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—faced a grilling by the Senate Committee on Health in Washington on 11 January.

Fauci defended the Biden administration’s approach, saying that the virus was a wily adversary that had fooled people from the time it had first appeared until the present. He said that vaccination was the best protection and that unvaccinated people were more likely to become ill and to die.

The Republican senator Rand Paul attacked Fauci, saying that he had opposed scientists with different views on the virus. Fauci said that Paul had accused him of things that were completely untrue and that such personal attacks had led to death threats against him and had endangered his family.

Another Republican senator, Roger Marshall, accused Fauci of concealing information about his finances. Fauci pointed out that he had made such information public for 35 years and that the senator just needed to look for it. Not realising that his microphone was still live, Fauci commented, “What a moron.”

Shortage of tests

Other senators criticised the Biden administration for being slow to supply vaccines, tests, and treatments to the public.

Walensky was attacked for what senators called confusing advice from the CDC about how people who had been exposed to covid should isolate or wear masks. She tried to clarify the information.

Tests have been in short supply in the US despite President Biden’s promise to make 500 million available this month. Tom Inglesby, a senior adviser to the White House’s covid-19 response team, said that the tests would be available this month thanks to new suppliers. “We’re going to be getting tests out as quickly as we can, as the manufacturers deliver them,” he said, adding that people would be able to order tests from a website that should be online by the coming weekend. A telephone number would be provided for people without internet access.

Inglesby said that there was no system for prioritising tests, so it appeared that they would be distributed on a first come, first served basis. He added that eight tests per person would be available each month—paid for by private health insurance, by Medicaid for disadvantaged people, and by Medicare for elderly people. Some 50 million tests would also be provided free to community health centres and rural health clinics.6

On 10 January Pfizer’s chief executive, Albert Bourla, said that the company would have a vaccine ready in March that would protect against omicron as well as other variants. He said that Pfizer was using a new manufacturing process that shortened an important part of the process from almost a month to a few days. He added that the company was already starting to manufacture the vaccine.7

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References

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