US sets new record for daily Covid cases as Omicron spreads across country
"A startling 488,000 cases were reported Wednesday, but even that figure is likely an undercount of the true number
The United States set a new record for daily infections of Covid-19 after reporting almost half a million positive cases as the surge of the Omicron variant spreads across the country.
On Wednesday there were 488,000 cases of the virus in the US, according to a New York Times database. However, even that figure is likely a serious undercount of the true numbers of positive cases, due to the rising popularity of home tests and people who are infected but asymptomatic.
The seven-day rolling average of cases in America is also soaring to a new high of more than 265,000 per day on average, a surge driven largely by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
“It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen, even at the peak of the prior surges of Covid,” Dr James Phillips, chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University Hospital, told CNN.
New cases per day have more than doubled over the past two weeks, eclipsing the old mark of 250,000, set in mid-January during the height of the last winter peak of the pandemic, according to data kept by Johns Hopkins University.
Record case counts are being logged in states and cities across the US, including New Jersey, New York and Chicago. In Georgia, 200 national guard troops are helping staff testing sites and hospitals and in Arizona and New Mexico, federal medical personnel have deployed to bolster the local health services.
The fast-spreading mutant version of the virus has cast a pall over Christmas and the new year, forcing communities to scale back or call off their festivities just weeks after it seemed as if Americans were about to enjoy an almost normal holiday season.
The number of Americans now in the hospital with Covid-19 is running at around 60,000, or about half the figure seen in January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported.
While hospitalizations sometimes lag behind cases, the hospital figures may reflect both the protection conferred by the vaccine and the possibility that Omicron is not making people as sick as previous versions.
Covid-19 deaths in the US have climbed over the past two weeks from an average of 1,200 per day to around 1,500.
Public health experts will be closely watching the numbers in the coming week for indications of the vaccines’ effectiveness in preventing serious illness, keeping people out of the hospital and relieving strain on exhausted healthcare workers, said Bob Bednarczyk, a professor of global health and epidemiology at Emory University.
CDC data already suggests that unvaccinated people are hospitalized at much higher rates than those who have been inoculated, even if the effectiveness of the shots decreases over time, he said.
“If we’re able to weather this surge with hopefully minimal disruptions to the overall healthcare system, that is a place where vaccines are really showing their worth,” Bednarczyk said.
It’s highly unlikely that hospitalization numbers will ever rise to their previous peak, said Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School Public Health. Vaccines and treatments developed since last year have made it easier to curb the spread of the virus and minimize serious effects among people with breakthrough infections.
“Its going to take some time for people to get attuned to the fact that cases don’t matter the same way they did in the past,” Adalja said. “We have a lot of defense against it.“
But even with fewer people hospitalized compared with past surges, the virus can wreak havoc on hospitals and healthcare workers, he added.
“In a way, those hospitalizations are worse because they’re all preventable,” he said.
The World Health Organisation reported that new Covid-19 cases worldwide increased 11% last week from the week before, with nearly 4.99m recorded December 20-26. But the UN health agency also noted a decline in cases in South Africa, where Omicron was first detected just over a month ago."