A study in South Africa showed the Omicron variant may only lead to mild illness.
However, the study has not been peer-reviewed and looked at only a small sample.
Researchers caution against using it to predict the overall severity of the new variant.
A study from doctors at the Steve Biko/Tshwane District Hospital Complex in Pretoria, South Africa, suggests that the Omicron variant may only cause mild illness, but the head of the study said it's too early to be too hopeful.
The report looked at 42 COVID-19 patients in the hospital on December 2. The doctors involved in the report said they don't know if the patients had the Omicron variant, but added it's likely given the spread of the variant in South Africa.
Dr. Fareed Abdullah, director of the Office of AIDS and TB Research at the South African Medical Research Council and the head of the report, told The New York Times that the findings are preliminary and only sampled a small group of patients.
Of the 42 patients, 70% did not need supplemental oxygen. Of the 13 patients who were using supplemental oxygen, four were in need of it for reasons besides COVID-19.
The doctors wrote that in previous COVID-19 waves, it was uncommon to have that high of a percentage of people not in need of oxygen.
"The COVID ward was recognizable by the majority of patients being on some form of oxygen supplementation with the incessant sound of high flow nasal oxygen machines, or beeping ventilator alarms," the doctors wrote.
Additionally, the report said most of the people were 'incidental COVID admissions,' meaning they were admitted to the hospital for other reasons and were only discovered to have the coronavirus through routine testing.
Abdullah told the Times that out of the 166 COVID-19 patients that were admitted to the Biko/Tshwane hospital between November 14 and November 29, the average time they stayed was less than three days – far below the average 8.5 days for a COVID-19 patient throughout the rest of the pandemic.
Also, only 7% of patients in the hospital died, compared to 17% of patients who died throughout the rest of the pandemic, the Times reported.
In the past 28 days, South Africa has had 107,738 COVID-19 cases and 891 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Throughout the entire pandemic, more than 3 million South Africans have been infected and close to 90,000 have died.
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