People wearing masks stand in lineShare on Pinterest
Researchers say people who contract the Omicron variant are far less likely to be hospitalized or die compared to people with the Delta variant.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
  • New research indicates that people are far less likely to be hospitalized or die from the COVID-19 Omicron variant than with the Delta variant.
  • Experts say people who are unvaccinated may face much higher risks than people who are vaccinated.
  • They do note that COVID-19 vaccines appear to be more effective against the Delta strain than against Omicron.

The Omicron variant is far less likely to cause death than the Delta variant, a new study of people with COVID-19 in California concludes.

In addition, the study shows that your odds of ending up in the hospital or in the intensive care unit (ICU) are also greatly reduced with an Omicron case.

And even if you do get sick enough with Omicron to be hospitalized, you probably won’t need to stay in the hospital as long as you might have if you had contracted the Delta variant, according to the researchers from the Kaiser Permanente health system, the University of California at Berkeley, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study has not yet been peer-reviewed and is thus considered preliminary research.

An earlier study out of Texas also found an association between Omicron cases, less severe disease, and decreased hospitalization rates.

Research from the U.K. Health Security Agency concluded that the risk of an Omicron case leading to an emergency room visit or hospital admission was about half that of the Delta variant. The study also found that while vaccination is less effective against Omicron than Delta, fully vaccinated people are still 81 percent less likely to be hospitalized than unvaccinated individuals.

The California study reflects the real-world experience and research in the international communities where Omicron first emerged, according to Dr. K.C. Rondello, an epidemiologist and public health professor in Adelphi University’s College of Nursing and Public Health in New York.

“We know that Omicron is less virulent than what we have seen with the wild strain of COVID-19 and previous variants,” Rondello told Healthline.

The California study involving nearly 70,000 people who developed COVID-19 via the Delta or Omicron variants found that people with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 were 91 percent less likely to die from the disease.

Admission to the hospital ICU was reduced by 74 percent among people with Omicron. Risk of hospitalization was roughly half for Omicron patients versus Delta patients.

Hospital stays for Omicron patients were, on average, 70 percent shorter than for symptomatic Delta patients.

“Reductions in disease severity associated with Omicron variant infections were evident among both vaccinated and unvaccinated patients, and among those with or without documented prior SARS-CoV-2 infection,” the study authors concluded.

The researchers reported that Omicron seems to have a greater ability than Delta to cause infection regardless of vaccination status. Vaccination was found to be more protective against infection with the Delta variant than for Omicron. Likewise, people who previously had COVID-19 were more likely to get a reinfection with Omicron than with Delta.

Regardless, “the unvaccinated are at higher risk of everything for Omicron and all other variants,” said Rondello. “The proportionate number of people who get sick who are unvaccinated vastly outweighs the number who are vaccinated.”

The Omicron variant accounts for nearly all new cases of COVID-19 in the United States, having overtaken the previously dominant Delta variant in late December.

Although a smaller percentage of people with Omicron seem to require hospitalization, the sheer number of people contracting the virus means that hospitals are straining to treat those who do get a severe case of COVID-19, Rondello said.

The current 7-day average of new COVID-19 cases in the United States is about 700,000. Hospitalizations nationwide have remained steady the past week at about 135,000.