- The United States registered more than 1 million new COVID-19 cases for the first time on Monday, with 26 states reporting record numbers.
- Omicron accounts for more than 95% of new U.S. infections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
- About 78% of the beds in intensive care units were occupied throughout the United States as of Monday, and 19,000 patients were in COVID-19 ICU beds.
Less than six weeks after global health officials warned of the omicron variant of coronavirus, the United States reports a record number of new COVID-19 cases and pediatric hospitalizations, some schools are returning to virtual learning, and testing is in short supply.
“The coming weeks will be challenging,” President Joe Biden acknowledged Tuesday in a speech to the nation before he and Vice President Kamala Harris met with the White House COVID-19 task force.
Omicron is “very different from anything we’ve seen before,” Biden said, urging all Americans to be vaccinated and boosted and to wear a face mask in public.
“If you are vaccinated and boosted, you are very protected. Be concerned about omicron, but do not worry. If you are unvaccinated, you have reason to be worried,” Biden said. “Some will die, unnecessarily die.”
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In the week ending Monday, there were 3.36 million new cases, a U.S. TODAY analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University shows. That’s nearly five times as many as the nation reported in the week ending November 23, just before the world heard of the variant called the omicron.
“The bottom line is that omicron will visit every city and town in the country and make its presence known,” Bruce Walker, director of the Ragon Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, said in a news release. briefing Tuesday.
On Monday alone, the United States registered more than 1 million new cases, and 26 states reported a record number of cases. The figure is artificially inflated due to backlogs from the New Year weekend. However, the figures do not take into account results from home tests to detect coronavirus.
That wave of infections has overwhelmed hospitals, creating a shortage of staff that increased air travel and prompted more school districts to extend winter vacations, cancel classes or switch to virtual learning. Experts say the worst is yet to come.
Jacob Lemieux, an infectious disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, said the outbreak is “an omicron pandemic at this stage.” Omicron accounts for more than 95% of new COVID-19 cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
“I think it’s really hard to say how long it’s going to last, but the next few weeks will be bad,” Lemieux said. “If people can buckle down for three weeks, then they should.”
News of the potentially troublesome variant in South Africa began circulating in November, and the World Health Organization declared the omicron a “concern variant” the day after Thanksgiving. Cases in South Africa peaked in mid-December and have been steadily declining since, data at Johns Hopkins University suggests.
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Dr. Monica Gandhi, an expert in infectious diseases at the University of California, San Francisco, said the omicron’s trajectory in South Africa could mean a short wave in the United States.
“If we can extrapolate from the experience of South Africa, I think cases from the omicron wave in the US will start to fall in mid to late January and then fall rapidly,” Gandhi said.
Studies show that the omicron variant tends to be milder than previous variants. But with so many people getting sick, more are getting seriously ill. In the past week, hospitals admitted about 46.5% more COVID-19 patients than the week before, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
As of Monday, more than 100,000 COVID-19 patients were in U.S. hospital beds – mostly since early September, when the delta variant peaked in the south. About 78% of the beds in the intensive care unit were occupied, and 19,000 patients were in COVID-19 intensive care units.
Biden said his administration has deployed “hundreds of military doctors and nurses” in the past two weeks to help hospitals “overrun and overloaded due to unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.” He said he instructed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make hospital beds available “whenever and wherever they are needed.”
To combat the rise, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday declared a 30-day state of emergency and mobilized 1,000 soldiers from the National Guard to help health officials.
“The truth is, the next four to six weeks will be the most challenging of the entire pandemic,” Hogan said at a news conference. “All the emergencies we take today are to prevent our hospitals from overflowing, to keep our children in school and to keep Maryland open for business, and we will continue to take the necessary action in the very difficult days and weeks ahead. “
In particular, hospitalizations among children with COVID-19 are increasing. During the week 22.-28. December, an average of 378 children aged 17 and under were hospitalized daily, an increase of 66% from the previous week, the CDC reported on Thursday.
At the nation’s largest pediatric hospital, Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, nearly 70 children were admitted with COVID-19 on Monday. The week before, the hospital had 30 patients with COVID-19 and 15 the previous week, spokeswoman Natasha Barrett said.
“Over the weekend, we broke previous records we set during the delta wave,” said Dr. Jim Versalovic, who runs the hospital’s COVID-19 Command Center, on a Zoom call.
Most COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated, Versalovic said. A majority of children have COVID-19 as a “primary factor” or “significant contributing factor” in their hospitalization, he said.
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In Illinois, hospitalizations of children with COVID-19 have nearly tripled since early December, Governor JB Pritzker said at a news conference Monday. In some regions of the state, single-digit ICU beds are available, he said. Unvaccinated patients fill 95% of ICU beds and “almost 100%” of ventilators, he said.
“It’s frustrating and tragic that two years into the pandemic – with several widely available, free life-saving vaccines – we are once again in this terrible situation,” he said. “With the holiday still only a week or two in hindsight, I fear the rise will continue while the virus hatches in those who were exposed in late December.”
Nearly 73% of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, and more than a third have been boosted, according to the CDC. Nearly 66% of people aged 5 and older have been fully vaccinated.
The CDC updated its booster shot guidelines on Tuesday, shortening the waiting time from six to five months for individuals receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration extended the emergency use permit for a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to include adolescents 12 to 15 years old.
A tool to combat the spread of COVID-19 is still lacking, even though the virus is touching its fourth calendar year – tests. In an address before Christmas, Biden acknowledged that the country “is not where we should be” in terms of test capacity.
“I know this is still frustrating,” Biden said Tuesday. “Believe me, it’s frustrating for me. But we’re making improvements.”
Biden said his administration has established federal test sites “across the country” in the past two weeks. “With more capacity for personal testing, we should see the waiting queues shortened and more appointments released,” he said.
He urged Americans to buy tests from pharmacies and online sites that were “refills.” From next week, insurers will have to reimburse people for the tests, Biden said.
Local governments and health care providers provide free tests for pickup, he said. From this month, Americans will be able to request free test kits from a federal website and have them shipped to their homes, he said.
Starring: Mike Stucka and Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY