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The numbers behind Philly's omicron surge - On top of Philly news - Billy Penn

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More Philadelphians are testing positive for COVID-19 than any time in the past two years. However, the number of people hospitalized with the virus in the city is less than half what it was last winter. You can see how these metrics changed over time in the charts below.

The now-dominant omicron variant is highly transmissible — “spreading like wildfire,” one doctor told 6ABC — and it can still cause major illness or death.

But for people who are fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID, omicron is much less likely to be life-threatening. Nearly three-quarters of Philly residents over 12 have gotten at least two doses of the vaccine. But those people can still transmit the virus to others who aren’t vaccinated or are immunocompromised, putting them in danger.

The top, purple line on the chart above shows the average number of daily positive COVID cases in Philadelphia since the pandemic hit the region.

You can see the initial spring wave (~450 cases/day), the first winter surge (over 1,000/day), the spring “third wave” (600/day) and the current spike, where counts have now surpassed the peak hit last year and aren’t yet showing signs of dropping.

The lower, blue line shows the average number of people hospitalized for COVID in Philly over the same period.

After hitting all-time highs at the very start of the pandemic when we didn’t know much about the virus (nearly 1,000 people in beds, overloading hospitals), the numbers have steadily decreased with each wave, as vaccinations increased and health care workers learned more about treatment. Over the past two weeks, the average number of people hospitalized has been just over 400.

The green bars on the chart above show the number of daily tests recorded in Philly each day since spring 2020.

This number, which includes mostly lab PCR tests along with some rapid antigen tests, has risen slowly this fall, surpassing last winter’s highs. But it has remained relatively steady over the past couple of weeks, with more than 10,000 people getting tested on many weekdays (testing almost always drops on weekends).

The purple line, which shows average positivity rate in Philadelphia, has not remained steady.

Getting below 5% positivity was a goal set by epidemiologists early in the pandemic, and Philly’s rate had been hovering below that metric for most of the fall. But positivity rate is now spiking. At around 14%, it has surpassed last winter’s highs.

With Philadelphia’s daily case counts and positivity rate both the highest they’ve been during the pandemic, local health officials are urging people to remember the social distancing and masking precautions we took to keep communities safe, especially since testing is scarce across the nation.

The city gave out 24,000 at-home rapid tests last week, depleting its stores, and the tests are backordered everywhere, according to health department spokesperson James Garrow. “We are searching for new vendors and products to purchase,” he told WHYY News.

(Sidenote: Buying your own rapid tests? They could be tax-deductible, along with PPE.)

If you have symptoms and can’t get tested, don’t go to the emergency room. ERs in Philly have been overwhelmed recently with people seeking non-emergency testing, hospital officials said in a recent plea to residents to let health care workers focus on more pressing problems.

Instead, if you have symptoms or think you were exposed to COVID, the health department’s recommendation is to assume you’re positive — and stay home.

For how long should you stay away from others?

The CDC just issued new guidance for people with COVID, shortening the recommended time for isolation from 10 days to 5 days if you don’t have any symptoms. That’s supposed to be followed by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others.

The city is still suggesting 10 days, which for months has been the generally accepted length. Here’s the health department’s guide on how to manage being in quarantine or isolation.