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Looking back at omicron’s deadliest week

Peggy Rampersad believes that everyone should have their own style, and she includes red lipstick and black round-rimmed eyeglasses.

A retired sociologist and academic, she loves art, opera, dance and music. When she lost her hair from chemotherapy after one of her three cancers, she grew a fake hawk and dyed it blonde. When she lost her sight due to macular degeneration, she started going to the local gym and taking seniors fitness classes three times a week.

Peggy’s daughter Gita Rampersad said: ‘She reinvents herself every decade. “I really admire that.”

Gita moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia, during the outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020 to stay with her 87-year-old mother. Although Peggy had been in and out of the hospital for other health issues, it wasn’t until she tested positive for Covid-19 in early 2022 that things took a turn for the worse. Peggy and her daughter are both vaccinated and healthy, and practice social distancing.

According to CDC data, less than 40% of people were vaccinated against Covid in Fredericksburg, and as the omicron variant swept the city, Gita said the hospital her mother was in was filled with Covid patients.

“The waiting room is full. There are no rooms in the ER,” she said. “People waited up to 36 hours in the emergency room to get a bed. Covid was on every floor. “

Gita hopes her mother will get better, that this trip to the hospital will be like everyone else’s. But Peggy developed a rash on her legs, and it turned into sepsis, a common complication of severe Covid. Her vitals continued to decline and she died on January 20, a week after her 89th birthday.

“Nobody is safe,” said Gita. “You can do everything you think is right and still get it.”

Peggy Rampersad is one of more than 125,000 people who have died from Covid-19 as the omicron variant increased the number of cases in January and February, according to NBC News ‘tally’. Health officials determined that the Covid omicron variant caused less severe disease than previous variantsbut the severity of this virus makes it absolutely contagious.

The death toll spiked in January, and 10 days after Peggy’s death was the deadliest week of the omicron wave.

Number of deaths in the South

No week of the omicron wave has seen more deaths than the week of January 30 to February 5. More than 18,400 deaths were recorded, according to NBC News statistics, the most deaths in a week. than all of June and July 2021 combined. . The death toll – which comes two weeks after cases peaked across the US – makes this week the deadliest week of 2022 and one of the deadliest of the pandemic.

An NBC News analysis of the week’s Covid data shows:

  • Older adults are the majority of Covid deaths among all Americans.
  • Middle-aged adults are the majority of Black Covid deaths.
  • Mortality rates are consistently occurring across the country, but mortality rates are higher in the Southern and Southeastern United States than in other parts of the country.

The elderly and those who were not vaccinated accounted for most of the week’s deaths. Data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows that nearly 80% of deaths in the week of January 30 were adults 65 and older, and HHS data for the first four weeks of January also shows that per week unvaccinated people die at rates 8 to 10 times higher than vaccinated people when adjusted for age and population.

But the HHS data also shows racial disparities between Black victims and the general population, with middle-aged adults making up the highest proportion of Black victims.

US counties saw an average of four Covid deaths per 100,000 people that week. But an analysis of NBC News data from the Johns Hopkins Center for Coronavirus Research found several counties in the South and Southeast where death rates were significantly higher, including several counties in northern Mississippi and western Virginia.

Pittsylvania County, Virginia, 300 miles southwest of Fredericksburg, is one of the places where Covid deaths have skyrocketed.

Krysta Luzynski, an epidemiologist at the Virginia Department of Health, told NBC News in an email that the department had expected an increase in cases after the holiday. Officials expect the severity of this surge to lessen as vaccinations increase, but curtailing indoor capacity restrictions and other mitigations make predictions difficult.

“Unfortunately, the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District has seen a huge increase, especially as Omicron swept through rural Southern Virginia,” Luzynski wrote. “As with all the other surges we have experienced, our employees worked long hours, evenings and weekends to meet the needs of the community.”

Covid has surged in the county, bringing the death rate to 26 per 100,000 people for the week of January 30, more than six times the national average.

Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, says that omicron waves are complex. It is not less severe than previous variants, but it is much more contagious. It marked nearly a year of vaccination efforts, when more than 80 percent of adults received at least one dose of the vaccine. But it came early in the reinforcement effort, when immunity begins to wane in those who receive the earliest dose.

And while much of the country is unvaccinated, Wachter said people who recovered from infections during summer delta waves may have some natural immunity against serious illness.

But at the same time, a public weary of nearly two years of masking and social distancing has begun to relax with those important measures, Watcher said.

“More people were burned to death,” said Wachter. “Many politicians are exhausted. Had omicrons struck a year earlier, it would have been considered a more serious threat and would have been a basis for us to be on high alert.”

“People stick with the word softer. Even if it’s a little lighter, you end up in a pretty bad position.”

Dr Justin Feldman, a research associate at the FXB Center of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, said omicron waves are dangerous for older adults because they induce a less effective immune response. Older adults also tend to have serious health conditions, like diabetes, high blood pressure or a history of cancer, which make them more susceptible to serious illness.

But Feldman notes that data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on excess mortality from Covid shows that the death rate has skyrocketed during the pandemic.

“We are at a higher mortality rate than we expected,” Feldman said.

Omicron attacks vaccinated people

Since the Covid vaccine was made available to all adults in April 2021, there have been Close relationship between vaccination rates and the rise of Covid, with greater numbers of cases increasing in areas with lower vaccination rates. But omicrons are different, experts say, with the number of Covid cases rising even in highly vaccinated regions.

Although significantly less common, omicrons still kill vaccinated people. Peter Colbert, 61, was vaccinated and boosted his health when he fell ill with Covid in late January, his sister, Jeanine Boucher-Colbert, said.

Colbert has a “bartender personality,” says his sister, and will find ways to connect with people.

“He was always the one looking for people [at parties] Jeanine said. “Elder sitting alone, the trash guy that we really like. Kids in the corner at an all-adult party. He will come and start a conversation with them. ”

Colbert, a former Hollywood production assistant, worked as a grocer in Yamhill County, Oregon, where 63% of the population is vaccinated. Jeanine says his job doesn’t allow time off as a precaution, only allowing workers with symptoms to rest.

The brothers last spoke on the afternoon of January 29, when Colbert told his sister he was unwell. He goes to bed at night, saying goodnight to Jeanine’s sister, with whom he lives. She died at some point during the night, she said.

Jeanine said: “He had a few chronic illnesses, but he did very well. “His numbers are really good.”

“He did well. He had a full-time job. And then he had Covid. Then he died.”

High vaccination rates may have helped prevent increased deaths in highly vaccinated areas, but Wachter says low vaccination rates are not necessarily indicative of increased deaths in the omicron wave. That’s because many people in lower-vaccinated areas have had some degree of immunity from serious illness in previous waves.

When a population gains its immunity – whether through vaccination or previous infection – is a strong indication of outcome.

“Everybody’s immunity is weaker tomorrow than they are today,” Wachter said, explaining that people who received the last dose of the vaccine or recovered from Covid six months before the omicron wave was less likely to be affected, says Wachter. more protective than those who were vaccinated, boosted, or recovered more recently.

Because all hospital patients are tested for Covid upon admission, it is difficult to know how many patients tested positive but died of other and specific causes, Wachter said. How many people died from Covid.

Black booster delay

Black Americans bear a disproportionate burden of omicron waves. NBC News’ analysis found that counties with the highest death rates for the week of January 30 had higher percentages of Black residents than the average counties. A March 18 report from the CDC found that Black adults were hospitalized at four times the rate of white adults.

Mortality of black omicrons also skewed towards younger than whites. An NBC News analysis of HHS Covid data found that in four age groups – 30-39 years old, 40-49 years old, 50-64 years old, and 65-74 years old, the death rate for blacks was higher than that of the general population. common in each age group.

Feldman, from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, attributes the difference in mortality in the Covid race to widespread structural and economic differences.

“Blacks in the first place tend to have worse health than whites, but they also have less access to health care,” Feldman said. “That means getting treatment later or being less likely to get help sooner, when it can help the most.”

Blacks and whites have similar vaccination ratesbut data from the Kaiser Foundation shows that rate of enhancement between blacks is lower than for whites up to 20 percentage points in some states. Blacks are also more likely to work in higher-risk service jobs; Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that Blacks make up 12 percent of the working population but 40 percent of postal service workers, 35 percent of bus drivers, and 33 percent of security guards.

“Those are places where people are less able to protect themselves,” Feldman said.

Cases are again starting to rise in parts of the country, with the number of cases in Arizona, Florida, Georgia and New York increasing by more than 50% in the past two weeks. Experts fear that pandemic leaders are sending the wrong message to the public by scrapping mask and vaccine mandates and encouraging a return to pre-pandemic routines.

“We don’t have to accept a permanently higher death rate,” Feldman said. “But the way to refute it is to react more collectively, to demand better policy. When there’s a wave, we shouldn’t try to just let the hospital in.”

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