Jan. 26, 2022 -- Despite declining national numbers, Americans should not lose sight of the ongoing public health crisis as hospitals remain overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, many of whom are unvaccinated, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said at a White House briefing Wednesday.

“Although it’s encouraging that Omicron appears to be causing less severe disease, it’s important to remember we’re still facing high overall burden of disease,” she said. “Hospitalizations have rapidly increased in a short amount of time, putting a strain on local health systems. Milder does not mean mild.”

Daily case rates of COVID-19 are 5 times higher with Omicron than the Delta variant. But because many Americans are vaccinated and boosted -- and Omicron seems to cause less severe disease -- hospitalizations and deaths have remained much lower, given the number of infections, Walensky said.

“When you look at the Delta period last winter, as cases increase, hospitalizations and deaths increase in a similar pattern,” she said. “Strikingly, when we compare the past month, when Omicron was the dominant variant, we see a clear separation between cases, hospital admissions, and death.”

This week’s 7-day average of daily cases is 692,400, a decrease of 6% since last week. Hospital admissions have decreased by 8%, to 19,800.

During the briefing, White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, outlined a hypothetical outcome for the pandemic -- and it doesn’t involve eliminating COVID-19.

“We want a level of control that does not disrupt us in society, does not dominate our lives or prevent us from doing the things we generally do under normal existence,” he said. “More importantly, concentrating on severity of disease, hospitalizations, and deaths that fall in the category that what we generally accepted with other respiratory viruses.”

But, he said, “We are not there right now.”

Fauci also discussed research underway on a “pan-coronavirus vaccine,” or a vaccine effective against all variants. The National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, which Fauci leads, has invested more than $300 billion in COVID-19 research, and $1.5 billion of that is for vaccine research.

Some pan-coronavirus vaccine candidates are already in phase I trials, he said. But he warned it will take years before these are authorized.

“Don’t forget,” he urged: “The current vaccine regimens already provide strong protection.”