'Completely full' ICUs as omicron wave stresses hospitals; FDA expands use of remdesivir. Latest COVID-19 updates

·5 min read

The omicron wave of COVID-19 is straining hospitals in some regions of the country, even as a growing number of states have seen cases plateau or decline in the past seven days.

COVID-19 cases in January soared to unprecedented levels, but Friday data from Johns Hopkins University shows most states have seen cases stay flat or decline this week.

Even so, hospitals across the country are still seeing the effects of the surge of cases coupled with staffing shortages.

"Hospitalizations lag behind what is happening in the community," said Dr. Laura Hesemann, chief of staff at University of Missouri Health Care, where some non-emergency procedures are being postponed to free up hospital resources. "If I get COVID-19 today, it's likely a week or two before I need hospitalization. The impact of the surge on hospitals takes a while to catch up."

In Alabama, cases have doubled in the past week and ICUs entered negative numbers of available beds in the central part of the state. There, medical personnel being infected with or exposed to COVID has become an increasing problem.

“Our ICUs are completely full here, okay? We’re in pretty bad shape,” said Dr. David Thrasher, a pulmonologist in Montgomery. Thrasher said staff being out with COVID is a large reason why hospitals in the region don’t have available ICU beds right now.

Elsewhere, nearly 70% of Vermont's hospitals were facing critical staffing levels, a study found.

Health experts have cautioned that the strain on healthcare systems is a major threat in this current wave, adding to the importance of booster shots — which recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show are 90% effective at keeping people out of the hospital.

Thousands of Americans are dying a day from COVID-19, recent Johns Hopkins data shows. "Omicron can kill," Eric Topol, vice president for research at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, and an outspoken writer on COVID-19, said in a tweet. "90% of these deaths were preventable."

Also in the news:

►The NFL and NFL Players Association have agreed to eliminate daily COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated players. Only a dozen players who have not been vaccinated would have been subject to daily testing.

►The Oregon Health Authority reported 10,947 new coronavirus cases on Friday, a state record that far surpassed the previous single-day tally of 3,207 in August 2021, months before the arrival of the omicron variant in the U.S.

►The world-famous Carnival festivities in Rio de Janeiro, traditionally held on the final weekend of February, are being moved into late April as Brazil fights a spike in COVID-19 cases amid spread of the omicron variant.

📈Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 70 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 864,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 346 million cases and over 5.5 million deaths. More than 210 million Americans – 63.3% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘 What we're reading: Long COVID patients are still struggling to reclaim their lives – even many months after their infections. "I'm 29 years old and I feel like I'm 70," says one Georgia man. He's not alone. Read the full story.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY's free Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

An employee at a COVID-19 test center in Wilsdruff, Germany, shows a rapid test on Friday.
An employee at a COVID-19 test center in Wilsdruff, Germany, shows a rapid test on Friday.

FDA expands use of remdesivir for some mild-to-moderate COVID cases

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday expanded the use of remdesivir for some non-hospitalized patients 12 and older for treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 infections with a high risk of hospitalization.

The antiviral drug from Gilead Sciences, sold under the brand name of Veklury, had previously been limited to use for patients requiring hospitalization.

“On the heels of the FDA’s recent authorization of two oral antiviral drugs, today’s actions bolster the arsenal of therapeutics to treat COVID-19 and respond to the surge of the omicron variant,” Patrizia Cavazzoni, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a news release.

The FDA’s approval for outpatients was supported by results from a placebo-controlled clinical trial that included nearly 600 non-hospitalized patients with mild or moderate infections. Of the 279 patients who received remdesivir, only two required hospitalization, compared to 15 of the 283 patients who received a placebo. There were no deaths in either group, the FDA said.

Arizona sues Biden administration over American Rescue Plan school funds

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration, ratcheting up the political battle over the state's use of American Rescue Plan funds as an incentive for schools that do not follow public health recommendations.

In a 24-page federal complaint, Ducey's legal team asked a judge to prevent U.S. Treasury from withholding or clawing back COVID-19 stimulus funds. In a statement, Ducey accused the Biden administration of "trying to bully Arizona into complying with this power-grabbing move."

The two sides have gone back and forth since October over a pair of education programs created by Ducey that draw on $173 million in American Rescue Plan aid. The funding was tied to an Arizona law that prohibited COVID-19 mandates in schools, and only schools that didn't impose mandates were eligible for money.

– Stacey Barchenger, Arizona Republic

Contributing: The Associated Press; Lauren Tronstad, Columbia Daily Tribune; Hadley Hitson, Montgomery Advertiser; April Barton, Burlington Free Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Omicron COVID wave stresses hospitals; FDA expands use of remdesivir