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Nurses wearing PPE attend to patients in a Covid-19 ICU at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital on Jan. 6, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. Photo: PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

Omicron infections are associated with a 91% reduction in risk of death compared to the Delta variant, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday, citing a new Kaiser Permanente Southern California study.

The big picture: The study also showed that Omicron infections were also associated with a 74% reduction in risk of going to the ICU, as well as a 53% reduction in risk of being hospitalized, Rochelle Walensky said.

Details: The study, which is yet to be peer reviewed, looked at 52,297 Omicron cases and 16,982 Delta cases. Those involved tested positive in Southern California between Nov. 30, 2021 and Jan. 1, 2022.

  • It was also done with CDC collaboration and funding, Walensky said.
  • No patients with Omicron in the study required mechanical ventilation.
  • Additionally, those with Omicron had a shorter duration in hospital stay when compared to Delta patients: "The duration of hospital stays was approximately 70% shorter, with the median of stays being 1.5 days for Omicron, compared to about five days for Delta," Walensky said.
  • "Looking at all hospital admissions for Omicron, 90% of patients were expected to be discharged from the hospital in three days or less," she added.

Yes, but: "While we are seeing early evidence that Omicron is less severe than Delta, and that those infected are less likely to require hospitalization, it's important to note that Omicron continues to be much more transmissible than Delta," Walensky said.

  • This has resulted in "unprecedented daily case counts, sickness, absenteeism, and strains on our healthcare system," according to the CDC director.

NIAID director Anthony Fauci added that those who are vaccinated and boosted are much less likely to get severe illness from Omicron.

  • He said that as the virus is controlled — but not eradicated — "virtually everybody is going to wind up getting exposed and likely get infected," but the chances of getting sick is "very, very low" for those who are up to date with their inoculations.

Go deeper

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: Fauci: "Confident" Omicron cases will peak in February — FDA OKs antiviral drug remdesivir for non-hospitalized patients — Walensky: CDC language "pivoting" on "fully vaccinated."
  2. Vaccines: The shifting definition of fully vaccinated — Annual vaccine preferable to boosters, says Pfizer CEO — Team USA 100% vaccinated ahead of Beijing Olympics.
  3. Politics: Virginia school boards sue Gov. Youngkin for lifting mask mandate — Gonzaga University revokes NBA great John Stockton's tickets over mask stance — Arizona governor sues Biden administration over funds tied to mandates.
  4. World: Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games — Beijing officials urge "emergency mode" before Winter Olympics — Austria approves vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker
1 hour ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to actually deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.

Updated 2 hours ago - Economy & Business

S&P 500 on track for worst-ever start to year

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Stocks suffered their steepest drop of the year early Monday, putting the S&P 500 on course for its worst-ever start to a year.

Driving the news: The benchmark S&P 500 dropped for its fifth straight day, with losses nearing 3% in early trading, momentarily putting it on track to fall into a "correction." Some of the steepest losses were recovered in early afternoon trading.