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Skyrocketing omicron cases are less likely to be severe, but could still overwhelm hospitals

The Indiana Department of Health has reported more than 80,000 new cases in the last week.
(Justin Hicks/IPB News)
The Indiana Department of Health has reported more than 80,000 new cases in the last week.

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There is a lot of evidence to suggest that omicron cases are less likely to result in hospitalizations. But while the individual risk of severe infection is lower, experts say the skyrocketing number of COVID-19 cases may still result in a crush of new hospitalizations.

Micah Pollak is an associate professor of economics at Indiana University Northwest. He said characterizing omicron cases as “less severe” is true for individuals.

“But it’s so much more infectious and so much more contagious, and we’re operating in a situation where we have much less mitigations that any reduction in severity is going to just be swamped by how much more contagious it is,” Pollak said.

How? Pollak said it comes down to the math.

If the state sees about 2,000 new cases per day and about 15 percent are hospitalized, then you’re at about 300 new hospitalizations per day. That’s about what Indiana had with the delta variant.

“Now if you have omicron, that’s maybe hitting 20,000 cases per day – which is not unreasonable,” Pollak said. “Even if you have a 5 percent hospitalization rate, which is one-third the chance, you have 1,000 people being hospitalized a day.”

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And that’s all in the context of where we are right now. Pollak said Indiana is currently in a difficult position.

“Our hospital resources are stressed really heavily right now – not because of omicron, but because of delta primarily,” he said. “And then we’re not going to get a reprieve because as soon as we start to get those delta patients out, we have omicron patients flooding in.”

The Indiana Department of Health reported more than 15,000 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, with more than 80,000 reported in the last week.

Contact Lauren at or follow her on Twitter at @laurenechapman_.
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Lauren Chapman