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Fact-check: Have there been any hospitalizations because of Omicron?

Tom Kertscher, PolitiFact.com

Sen. Rand Paul: “No one has been hospitalized for” the omicron variant of COVID-19.

PolitiFact's ruling: False

Here's why: Since omicron was detected in late November, early indicationshave been that it results in milder illness than other variants of COVID-19.

But not even one hospitalization?

That was the claim from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in an ad that solicited contributions for his 2022 reelection campaign.

"The COVID hysteria has already gone on too long and these power-hungry bureaucrats don’t want to let go," Paul said in a 50-second video ad on Facebook that started running Jan. 4, the day he filed to run for a third term. "That’s probably why we’re hearing a lot about this new scary omicron variant.

"But let’s be clear. The omicron variant in South Africa, and now California and across the United States, is reported as an illness with mild symptoms. We hope that will play out over the next few weeks as we learn more. But so far, no one has been hospitalized for it. That’s good news."

Fact-check:Did a study show vaccinated people more likely to be infected with omicron?

Are you less likely to need hospitalization if you’re infected with omicron? Yes, those are the early indications, especially if you're vaccinated or have immunity from a previous coronavirus infection.

But zero hospitalizations from omicron? Far from it.

Omicron’s emergence, and surge

Omicron was first identified by researchers in South Africa, who reported it to the World Health Organization on Nov. 24. The World Health Organization designated it as a variant of concern two days later. It has spread to at least 110 countries. 

The first U.S. case was confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Dec. 1, days after a Californian returned home from South Africa. 

On Jan. 4, the CDC estimated that 95.4% of the COVID-19 cases in the United States in the week ending Jan. 1 were the omicron variant and just 4.6% from the delta variant. A month earlier, Omicron’s share was just 0.6%.

Fact-check:Can vaccinated people spread COVID-19?

Hospitalizations continuing with omicron

While there is not comprehensive data on omicron hospitalizations, it’s simply not the case that there have been none.

The World Health Organization told PolitiFact it does not have data on COVID-19 infections that are broken down by variant. While early data from South Africa, the United Kingdom and Denmark suggest a reduced risk of hospitalization for omicron compared to delta, increased transmission due to omicron is expected to lead to more hospitalizations, the organization said. 

"It is still unclear to what extent the observed reduction in risk of hospitalization can be attributed to immunity from previous infections or vaccination and to what extent omicron may be less virulent," the organization said in an email.

Omicron hospitalizations were reported before the ad went live.

  • study published Jan. 1 found that — of 1,313 symptomatic COVID-19 patients, including 862 omicron patients as of Dec. 20 in the Houston Methodist healthcare system — 15% of omicron patients were hospitalized, compared with 43% of delta variant patients and 55% of alpha patients. 
  • People who contracted the omicron variant were about half as likely to need hospital care as those infected with delta, according to a report issued Dec. 31 by the UK Health Security Agency. The study included 815 people with omicron who were admitted to hospitals or transferred from emergency departments.

Paul’s response

We reached out Jan. 6 to Paul’s campaign. Deputy campaign manager Jake Cox replied the same day, saying that when the script for the ad was written, there were no confirmed hospitalizations, and that the ad is no longer running. 

Facebook says the ad stopped running Jan. 6.

Paul ran for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. His leading challenger for reelection is former Kentucky state lawmaker Charles Booker, who narrowly lost the Democratic nomination for Kentucky’s other U.S. Senate seat in 2020. 

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Our ruling

In a campaign fund-raising ad for his reelection, Paul stated: "No one has been hospitalized for" the omicron variant of COVID-19.

Studies published before the ad began running on Facebook documented hundreds of omicron hospitalizations. Paul took the ad down.

We rate the claim False.

Sources

  • Facebook, Rand Paul for U.S. Senate ad ID: 301711262002565, Jan. 4, 2022
  • Email, Rand Paul deputy campaign manager Jake Cox, Jan. 6, 2022
  • Email, World Health Organization spokesperson Wynne Boelt, Jan. 6, 2022
  • PolitiFact, "Omicron is still being studied, but data in viral Facebook post is wrong," Dec. 9, 2021
  • MedRxiv, "Early signals of significantly increased vaccine breakthrough, decreased hospitalization rates, and less severe disease in patients with COVID-19 caused by the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 in Houston, Texas," Jan. 1, 2022
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Variant Proportions," week ending Jan. 1, 2022
  • Reuters, "Omicron estimated to be 95.4% of coronavirus variants in U.S. - CDC," Jan. 4, 2022
  • Reuters, "WHO sees more evidence that Omicron causes milder symptoms," Jan. 4, 2022 
  • New York Times, "Omicron Is Milder," Jan. 5, 2022
  • New York Times, "In Omicron Hot Spots, Hospitals Fill Up, but I.C.U.s May Not," Jan. 4, 2022
  • New York Times, "People with Omicron are less likely to need hospitalization, U.K. report finds," Dec. 31, 2021
  • UK Health Security Agency, "Technical briefing: Update on hospitalisation and vaccine effectiveness for Omicron VOC-21NOV-01 (B.1.1.529)," Dec. 31, 2021
  • Washington Post, "Two key pieces of context for considering omicron and hospitalizations," Jan. 5, 2022