Jan 3, 2022 - COVID

D.C. starts 2022 amid COVID-19 surge

Blue COVID cell sitting on confetti and wearing a Happy New Year hat.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The D.C. region starts the new year dealing with the fallout from the staggering spread of COVID-19.

  • D.C.’s case count has exploded in the past month, shooting up to more than 2,000 cases daily in the last days of 2021 as the highly contagious Omicron variant threatens the region.

Driving the news: Hospitalizations have increased, although D.C. hospital capacity remains stable, DC Health senior deputy Patrick Ashley said at a COVID-19 briefing last week.

  • Ashley said that a quarter of hospital staff is in isolation or quarantine. The city is relying on twice the number of traveling nurses than before the pandemic to support hospitals.
  • In Prince George’s County, the University of Maryland Capital Region Health said it was moving three of its health centers to crisis standards of care, NBC News4 Washington reported, amid a rise in coronavirus patients.
  • Maryland and D.C. set records in late December for patients hospitalized with COVID-19, the Washington Post reported.

Looking ahead: Government restrictions might not shutter businesses and schools during this surge, but the widespread reach of the Omicron variant may disrupt several sectors as employees get infected or need to quarantine.

  • Experts say we haven’t yet seen the peak of the Omicron wave.
  • It’s also too soon for us to see the full impact of Omicron in the region since hospitalizations data often lags behind a few weeks, said Anne Monroe, an epidemiologist at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.
  • “It’s really important for the public to keep hearing that we need people to be vaccinated and boosted,” Monroe said. “That protection against severe illness and hospitalization and death will hold up in the face of Omicron.”

Be smart: Neil Sehgal, assistant professor of health policy and management at the University of Maryland, tells Axios that he is pleased with D.C.’s new indoor vaccine requirement, which requires people to have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Jan. 15 to enter certain indoor locations.

  • But Sehgal wonders if it’ll make enough of a difference before Omicron’s expected peak in transmission this month.

Children’s National Hospital has had 20-25 kids hospitalized for COVID-19 at any given time during the pandemic; now they have 48, Robert DeBiasi, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, tells Axios.

  • In D.C., just 11% of kids between ages 5 and 12 are fully vaccinated while approximately 50% of kids between 12 and 17 are fully vaccinated. Children under the age of 5 are not yet eligible for vaccines.

Late last month, D.C. began offering a new option at its test-yourself pick-up locations: Free rapid antigen tests, an option that has been met with enthusiasm.

  • Since offering antigen tests at local libraries and fire stations, 108,000 kits have been picked up as of last Wednesday.
  • If you picked up one, don’t forget to report your results (negative or positive) via D.C.’s portal.

How did this happen? When asked how D.C.’s case counts had taken such a dramatic leap, Mayor Muriel Bowser said at a news conference last week: “I don’t know.”

Worthy of your time: The Washington Post asked public health experts for their theories, with no solid consensus but theories ranging from holiday travel to the withdrawal of D.C.’s mask mandate in November.

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