CNN  — 

The new year is starting with a massive influx of Covid-19 that’s different from any other during this pandemic, doctors say.

“We’re seeing a surge in patients again, unprecedented in this pandemic,” said Dr. James Phillips, chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University Hospital.

“What’s coming for the rest of the country could be very serious. And they need to be prepared.”

Even health care workers are getting sidelined during the rapid rise of the Omicron variant, the most contagious strain of novel coronavirus to hit the US.

“Our health system is at a very different place than we were in previous surges,” emergency medicine professor Dr. Esther Choo said.

“This strain is so infectious that I think all of us know many, many colleagues who are currently infected or have symptoms and are under quarantine,” said Choo, associate professor at Oregon Health and Science University.

“We’ve lost at least 20% of our health care workforce – probably more.”

Don’t get a false sense of security with Omicron

Early studies suggest the Omicron variant may cause less severe disease than the Delta variant, which still makes up a considerable portion of US Covid-19 cases.

But because Omicron is much more contagious, the raw number of Covid-19 hospitalizations could get worse, Dr. Anthony Fauci said.

“When you have so many, many cases, even if the rate of hospitalization is lower with Omicron than it is with Delta, there’s still the danger that you’re going to have a surging of hospitalizations that might stress the health care system,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

And Omicron might be more problematic for young children, said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration.

“It does appear now, based on a lot of experimental evidence that we’ve gotten just in the last two weeks, that this is a milder form of the coronavirus,” Gottlieb told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

“It appears to be more of an upper airway disease than a lower airway disease. That’s good for most Americans. The one group that that may be a problem for is very young children – toddlers – who have trouble with upper airway infections,” said Gottlieb, a current board member at Pfizer.

“This new strain could have a predilection, again, for the upper airway, which could be a bigger challenge in young kids, because of the way it binds to the airway cells.”

School districts go remote after record-high child Covid-19 hospitalizations

Just as millions of students prepared to return to school, new pediatric Covid-19 hospitalizations reached a record high.