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Covid case counts may be losing importance amid Omicron, some experts say.

Though coronavirus case counts are increasing at an explosive rate across the world, they may yield a less useful picture of the pandemic amid the spread of Omicron, which is causing lots of infections but so far does not appear to be as severe in its effects.

Some, such as US Chief Medical Advisor Dr Anthony Fauci, believe the focus should instead be on Covid-19 hospital admissions. Fauci said on Sunday:

It is much more relevant to focus on the hospitalisations as opposed to the total number of cases.”

Daily case counts and their ups and downs have been one of the most closely watched barometers during the outbreak but they have long been considered an imperfect measure, in part because they consist primarily of laboratory-confirmed cases of Covid-19, not the actual number of infections out there, which is almost certainly many times higher.

Dr Wafaa El-Sadr, director of ICAP, a global health centre at Columbia University, said we should be “shifting our focus, especially in an era of vaccination, to really focus on preventing illness, disability and death, and therefore counting those.”

Case counts have lost relevance, said Andrew Noymer, a public health professor at the University of California, Irvine.

Hospitalisations are where the rubber meets the road. It’s a more objective measure. If I had to choose one metric, I would choose the hospitalisation data.”

Still, health experts are not prepared to do away with case counts.

“We should not abandon looking at case numbers,” said Dr Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, “but it is important to acknowledge we’re seeing only a portion of the actual number of cases.”

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