COVID-19 Public Health

COVID Disease Severity Lower Than Ever, Most People Infected Unaware of Status

As the omicron BA.5 subvariant has become dominant, many countries are heading into their third wave of Omicron cases. Japan reports its largest-ever surge in cases, recording over 200,000 new cases in one day.

Though omicron BA.5 has become the most dominant subvariant of COVID (accounting for 88% of new cases in the US) and is highly contagious, CDC data shows disease severity at its lowest point ever.

Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admission among hospitalized COVID-19 patients. (

Among hospitalized COVID patients, about 1 in 10 are admitted to the ICU as of July 2022. This figure was as high as 1 in 3 in March 2020, and 1 in 5 as recently as December 2021.

Mortality among hospitalized COVID-19 patients. (

Similarly, mortality among hospitalized COVID patients has decreased appreciably from 1 in 5 in March 2020 to 1 in 40 in July 2022.

These decreases in COVID disease severity follow the emergence of the omicron variant in November 2021 and its ever-growing share of new infections. The omicron variant, while of high concern and contagion, does not appear to be of proportionally high consequence compared to earlier variants.

The most common symptoms of COVID include cough, fever, and chills. Many report symptoms resembling a common cold with symptoms like upper respiratory congestion. Most people (56%) who are infected with the omicron variant are not aware of their positive status according to a recent Cedars-Sinai study.

Multiple factors could explain omicron’s lower severity, including widespread vaccination or immunity gained from prior exposure and infection. It is also possible that omicron has mutations that decrease severity while favoring infectivity.

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