Covid cases in US reach high pandemic level as delta and omicron circulate

Covid cases in the United States have reached their highest pandemic level as two highly infectious variants circulate across the country and health officials urge Americans to get vaccinated and boost against the virus.

Daily cases nationwide reached a record seven-day average of more than 265,000 as of Tuesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, beating the previous record of around 252,000 average daily cases set on January 11, 2021.

The new pandemic peak comes as the delta and omicron variants spread simultaneously. The previously dominant delta variant had already led to an increase in the number of cases in the United States this fall before the emergence of the omicron, which is contributing to an almost vertical increase in the number of new daily cases.

About 75,000 Americans are hospitalized with Covid-19 and the country reports more than 1,500 deaths per day. Although both figures are on the rise, they are lower than the last daily record of cases set almost a year ago, before vaccinations against Covid were widely available. Hospitalizations topped 137,000 at this point, according to a seven-day average of Department of Health and Human Services data, and data from Hopkins shows the average number of deaths was over 3,200 per day.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 62% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated with two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Tuesday.

U.S. health officials have warned the risk remains highest for the unvaccinated and are pushing Americans to get a booster dose to better protect themselves against omicron.

“It contains over 50 mutations, and because of those mutations, just getting vaccinated with two doses may not be enough,” CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky told The News last week. with Shepard Smith ”from CNBC. “And so we really need people to be empowered to increase their protection, especially against serious illness and death with omicron.”

In the United States, omicron accounted for 59% of sequenced Covid cases while delta accounted for 41% last week, according to CDC estimates.

As the global scientific community continues to collect data on the new variant, which was first detected in southern Africa in late November, there has been some encouraging news. Real-world studies from South Africa and the UK suggest people infected with omicron develop milder disease than delta, and Pfizer and Moderna have each said a third dose of their Covid mRNA vaccines appears offer significant protection against omicron, although a two-shot regimen has been shown to be less effective against infection.

A milder disease with greater transmissibility could still wreak havoc in health systems if the absolute number of cases becomes high enough, experts say. Indeed, even if a smaller share of those infected end up going to hospital, that smaller share of very large numbers could be enough to strain hospitals and impact patient care. Covid and non-Covid.

“A higher spike can overwhelm the system for other people as well,” said Dr Bruce Y. Lee, professor of health policy and management at the City University of New York School of Public Health, explaining that more comprehensive hospitals would make it more difficult to treat those who have a heart attack or cancer or who have been in a car accident.

The White House will deploy 1,000 military medical personnel to support hospitals facing a wave of Covid-infected patients this winter, President Joe Biden announced last week. The government will also buy 500 million home tests that Americans can order online for free with delivery starting in January.

Americans struggle to get tested during peak holiday season, when many cruise through crowded airports to visit family. There is a shortage of home test kits, with national and independent pharmacies struggling to keep them in stock. Queues for on-site testing at clinics in cities like New York can last for hours.

In an interview with ABC News, Biden said he wished he had ordered the test kits two months ago.

A number of states report average daily case records. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York State, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Virginia, Illinois, Maryland and Hawaii each hit record highs on Tuesday, according to a CNBC analysis of Hopkins data. Ohio is just below a record high, and Connecticut, Delaware and the District of Columbia all hit record highs in December before dropping back below their new highs.

Hospitalizations are increasing in almost all of these states. The seven-day average of 325 patients in hospital beds with Covid in DC is a 70% increase from the previous week, close to a record, while Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Virginia each experienced weekly increases of 20% or more.

Anil Mangla, DC’s top epidemiologist, said that while the sources of outbreaks are similar to those throughout the pandemic – schools, restaurants and bars, event venues and people’s homes – the outbreak is much more high than expected. DC is reporting about 2,000 average daily cases, according to Hopkins data, about 10 times more than two weeks ago and more than any other state on a population-adjusted basis.

“It’s very obvious that omicron is here,” Mangla said. “Is there delta, absolutely. But due to the large spike, we’re definitely confident that omicron is here.”

Mangla highlighted the declining percentage of DC Covid cases that have been hospitalized, which is down to 2.6% from more than 5% earlier in the month, as a potentially encouraging sign that omicron is causing milder illness. However, DC infections have only increased in recent weeks.

Delta and omicron are detected in sequenced tests at Ohio State University, said Dr. Carlos Malvestutto, an infectious disease physician at the university’s Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. While most of the patients currently hospitalized there are likely to have delta, he said, omicron is now visible in the majority of new Covid test results.

Most hospital patients aren’t vaccinated, according to Malvestutto, a trend he also expects to see with omicron. And even if the variant causes milder illness, he still believes the state will exceed its high level of pandemic hospitalization set in December 2020, when more than 5,600 patients were hospitalized with Covid. That figure was nearly 5,200 on Tuesday.

“A lot of the data that we have looked at tells us that even though the virulence appears to be significantly lower, due to very high transmissibility, in terms of absolute numbers, it is likely to still lead to an increase in hospitalizations,” he said. he declared. noted. “If you are vaccinated and boosted then you are in much better shape.”

– CNBC Spencer kimball contributed reports.

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