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Experts warn of Omicron 'blizzard' in US in weeks ahead

Healthcare workers conduct tests at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at the Dan Paul Plaza on December 29, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (AFP photo)

US health experts on Thursday urged Americans to prepare for severe disruptions in coming weeks as the country has reached a record high in COVID-19 cases.

The rising wave of COVID-19 cases led by the Omicron variant is crushing hospitals. For the second day in a row, the US saw a record number of new cases based on the seven-day average, with over 290,000 new infections reported each day, a Reuters tally showed.

A number of 18 states as well as Puerto Rico have set pandemic records for new cases, according to the tally. Maryland, Ohio and Washington, D.C., also reported record hospitalizations as overall US COVID-19 hospitalizations rose 27%.

New Jersey, New York and Chicago are reporting record case counts. Hospital bed capacity is a worry in those areas. Also, federal medical personnel have been deployed in Arizona and New Mexico to provide Covid-19 surge support.

In Georgia, six major health systems with recent 100% to 200% spikes in Covid-19 hospitalizations, joined to publicly call on people to seek coronavirus testing elsewhere so their emergency rooms can be used for those with critical needs.

"It's unlike anything we've ever seen, even at the peak of the prior surges of Covid," Dr. James Phillips, who works in Washington, DC, said.

"What we're experiencing right now is an absolute overwhelming of the emergency departments" in Washington, Phillips, chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University Hospital, told CNN's Jim Acosta.

Across the country, almost 78% of ICU beds are in use, with 22% of those occupied by Covid-19 patients, according to data from the US Health and Human Services Department.

Meanwhile, the number of people died because of the virus jumped this week by about 18%, for an average of 1,546 deaths each day, data from the CDC shows.

"We are going to see the number of cases in this country rise so dramatically, we are going to have a hard time keeping everyday life operating," Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, told MSNBC.

"The next month is going to be a viral blizzard," he said. "All of society is going to be pressured by this."

Also, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease official, said Wednesday cases are likely to increase throughout January.

The spike comes amid increased holiday travel, with upcoming New Year's celebrations, and as schools grapple with students' return to classrooms following winter breaks.

According to research, a substantial amount of COVID-19 transmission among children tends to occur outside of schools. However, experts expect a new surge in cases among children from holiday gatherings.

"The virus has just been able to outsmart, penetrate beyond, what it is the parents have done to shelter those children," said William Schaffner, a leading infectious disease expert from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

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