Health

US breaks single-day case record

As a second
year of living with the pandemic was drawing to a close, the new daily case
total topped 488,000 on Wednesday, according to a New York Times database. (The
total was higher Monday, but that number should not be considered a record
because it included data from the long holiday weekend.)

Wednesday’s
seven-day average of new daily cases, 301,000, was also a record, compared with
267,000 the day before, according to the database. In the past week, more than
2 million cases have been reported nationally, and 15 states and territories
reported more cases than in any other seven-day period.

The rise in
cases has been driven by the omicron variant, which became dominant in the
United States as of last week. So far, however, those increased cases have not
resulted in more severe disease, as hospitalisations have increased only 11
percent and deaths have decreased slightly in the past two weeks.

Because
COVID-19 tests have been in short supply over the holidays, Wednesday’s numbers
still may not fully illustrate the havoc caused by the two variants, which have
sent caseloads soaring and have worsened a labour shortage, upending the
hospitality, medical and travel industries, among others.

Demand for
tests has outstripped supply, particularly in the past month as the omicron
variant has spread at an astonishing speed. And the holiday season offers its
own disruptions to the US case curve, with many testing sites offering limited
hours, and labs and government offices not open to report test results.

Last year,
the national case curve showed pronounced declines after Thanksgiving and
Christmas that did not reflect real decreases in new infections. The effect of
holidays may be even more noticeable this time around, as illustrated by the
Labor Day holiday in September, because states are reporting data less
consistently than they did a year ago.

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Before Tuesday,
the seven-day US average had peaked Jan. 11 at 251,232. That was during a
catastrophic winter when vaccinations were still relatively new. Today, more
than 62 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated.

No matter
what the true caseload is right now, the United States has confronted a new set
of challenges as the delta and omicron variants have converged. The variants
have disrupted holiday travel and gatherings, depleted hospital staffs and
plunged the United States into another long winter.

Record
caseloads have been reported in a laundry list of US cities where vaccination
rates are relatively high, including New York, Washington, Seattle, San
Francisco, Boston, Atlanta and Detroit.

Experts say
there are two reasons for the high numbers in urban areas: population density
and more COVID-19 testing.

Cities are
tightly packed hubs for travel and socialising, which leaves people more
susceptible to the highly contagious omicron variant, said Dr Kirsten
Bibbins-Domingo, a physician and public health researcher at the University of
California, San Francisco.

“Then you
layer in on top of it that we do a lot of testing in these major urban centers
precisely because we’re worried about big surges overwhelming hospitals,” she
said Wednesday.

In fact, she
said, city caseloads may be higher than reported because of the rise in at-home
tests that often don’t get reported to state officials, so they don’t end up in
official case totals.

© 2022 The
New York Times Company

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