The United States became the first country to report more than a million new COVID-19 cases in a single day on Monday, the result of a backlog from the holiday weekend and the extremely contagious Omicron variant currently ripping through much of the country.
The U.S. counted 1,082,549 cases on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University—a global record for new COVID cases. The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day saw more than 3.3 million COVID cases, according to Johns Hopkins, and over the past two weeks, the daily average in cases is nearing half a million, according to CDC data.
More data in recent weeks has confirmed early suspicions that the Omicron variant—though it’s better at evading immunity from prior infection and vaccines—is generally causing less-severe illness. However, it’s unclear whether that’s the result of protection conferred by vaccines and natural immunity, less pathogenicity than previous forms of the virus, or both.
Several studies published in recent days have found that the Omicron variant does not attack the lungs in the same way that variants such as Delta and Alpha did.
As the Omicron variant has caused record-shattering case numbers far exceeding what was seen even during last winter’s peak, top Biden administration officials have attempted to divert attention from caseloads as the pandemic’s standard metric.
“As you get further on and the infections become less severe, it is much more relevant to focus on the hospitalizations as opposed to the total number of cases,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House Chief Medical Officer, told ABC News Sunday. Fauci maintained that he was “still very concerned about the tens of millions of people who are not vaccinated at all.”
But although hospitalizations aren’t increasing at the same rate as they did with prior variants—and it appears those who are hospitalized are hospitalized for a shorter amount of time—hospitalizations are still spiking. That’s putting an overwhelming amount of stress on a hospital system that was already in crisis. In New York, where the Omicron variant in the U.S. first appeared and rapidly overtook Delta as the dominant variant, hospitalizations are near last winter’s pre-vaccination peak.
Nationally, more than 103,000 people are currently hospitalized, nearing levels seen this summer as Delta ripped through the undervaccinated South. And in at least nine states, more kids are in the hospital with COVID than ever before, according to NBC News.
Despite the Biden administration’s insistence that the nation won’t return to the lockdowns and restrictions seen early in the pandemic, Omicron is causing staff shortages that don’t leave schools with much of a choice. Several large school districts in cities such as Newark, New Jersey, Milwaukee, and Atlanta announced over the holidays that they would move to remote learning instead of coming back to school this week.
In the week ending December 26, for example, more than 430 students and staff members in Newark schools tested positive, according to district data. Newark will be remote-only until at least January 18, according to the district website.
“This is not the news I want to be sharing with students and their families at this time because we need to continue in-person instruction, but the health and safety of students and staff remains the top priority,” Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León said in a statement late last month.
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