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Omicron sends new US COVID-19 cases soaring to levels higher than pandemic peak

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A COVID-19 testing center in New York City

The highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus is sending daily infections in parts of the United States soaring to levels higher than the pandemic peak of early 2021.

Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Puerto Rico are among the areas that have reported higher caseloads in the past week than in any other seven-day period since the start of the pandemic, according to The New York Times. 

The United States is now averaging more than 198,000 new coronavirus cases each day, according to data released Sunday by Johns Hopkins University. That represents a 65 percent jump over the past 14 days and the highest daily caseload since January 19.

And an average of 1,408 Americans died from COVID-19 complications each day during the week ending Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins, a 17 percent jump from the prior week.

The numbers are driven by the Omicron variant, which is fast spreading across the United States during the holiday season as millions of Christmastime travelers scatter around the country.

Although some studies suggest that Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness and death, experts warn that the new surge could further strain the US health system and lead to many more deaths, especially since tens of millions of Americans still remain unvaccinated.

Hospitalizations are up, too, although not as much as infections. Nearly 71,000 Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19, slightly higher than the previous week but still well below previous peaks.

"We're certainly going to continue to see a surge (in cases) for a while," Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s chief infectious disease expert, told CNN on Monday.

Looking ahead to New Year's Eve on Friday, Fauci advised Americans to avoid large gatherings where it is difficult to know whether all the people around them are vaccinated.

"When you are talking about a New Year's Eve party where you have 30, 40, 50 people celebrating, you do not know the status of the vaccination, I would recommend strongly: Stay away from that this year," said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Only 62 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated, and the nation’s medical infrastructure is severely strained two years into the pandemic and hospitals grapple with staff and supply shortages.

Some states are doing worse than others.

New York broke a single-day record for new cases on Christmas Eve, with 49,708 new COVID-19 infections, according to data released on Sunday by Governor Kathy Hochul's office.

"As we come home from holiday gatherings, it is as important as ever to take precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19 this season," Hochul said in a statement. "The vaccine is the best tool we have to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe as we head into the new year."

The average number of daily new cases in New York City skyrocketed 644 percent in the past two weeks to 19,268, according to The New York Times.

Hospital admissions among children in the city have increased fourfold since December 5, driven by the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, the New York State Department of Health said in an advisory. About half of the hospitalized children were under 5, and not eligible for vaccination.

The new surge prompted New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to order a vaccine mandate for employees in the private sector, effective Monday. The updated rules require workers to have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Children ages 5 to 11 in New York are now also required to show proof of at least one dose of vaccine before being allowed into indoor dining, fitness, or entertainment venues. And adults must show proof of two vaccinations for the same activities.


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