Keeping track

As some readers have requested, here are a few links that should help track omicron’s behavior.

While skyrocketing case counts clearly matter, in my judgment the key metric in the weeks ahead will be hospitalizations. This is our best indicator of systemic risk, both for those infected (and re-infected) and health care systems. Hospitalization is the “supply” that will be most constrained for this “demand”.

From South Africa the National Institute for Communicable Diseases Daily Hospital Surveillance Report.

From Denmark the Danish Health Authority COVID-19 Surveillance report (including hospitalizations).

From the United Kingdom there is a Coronavirus Data portal (link will take you to hospitalizations).

From the United States, the Centers for Disease Control tracks new hospital admissions (please note link to second chart).

Our World in Data at the University of Oxford also provides interactive charts for several nations (in both linear and logarithmic formats).

Dr. William Hanage, professor of the evolution and epidemiology of infectious disease at Harvard University, writes in today’s Guardian,

You cannot simply compare Omicron with Delta by adding up the numbers of cases and hospitalisations for each over a short timeframe. The numbers of Omicron cases have been growing faster – much faster – than those of Delta, and it takes time for people to become seriously ill. To accurately gauge the severity, we will need to compare the numbers of cases that end up in hospitalisation or death. 

Dr. Hanage goes on to explain it will be a few weeks before a meaningful comparison of omicron’s severity with delta’s severity will be possible.

There is increasing evidence that omicron’s impact on the South African population is less severe than prior variants. A just released study used S Gene Target Failure (SGTF) as a proxy for omicron infection as early as October 1. The not yet peer-reviewed report concludes:

Early analyses suggest a reduced risk of hospitalisation among SGTF-infected individuals when compared to non-SGTF infected individuals in the same time period, and a reduced risk of severe disease when compared to earlier Delta-infected individuals. Some of this reducton is likely a result of high population immunity.

These findings suggest (more) that South Africans infected with omicron have been 80 percent less likely to be hospitalized and 70 percent less likely to experience severe disease than those who contracted the delta variant. Omicron has, however, been much more contagious than delta, both in South Africa and elsewhere.

As previously noted, health care capacity is comparatively fixed. We do not yet have a data-derived understanding of real demand. Potential demand (as measured by new cases) is exploding. Over the next two or three weeks hospitalizations will confirm “effectual” demand. The links above should help signal what’s coming. The most effective demand management measure currently available is vaccination (especially boosters). Masking, social distancing, good ventilation, and avoiding crowded interior spaces also help.