Dec 9, 2021 - Health

COVID cases and deaths are on the rise

Change in COVID-19 <span style="background:#432371; padding:0px 5px 3px 5px;color:white;">cases</span> per 100k people in the last two weeks
Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

COVID-19 cases and deaths are rising all across the U.S. even before the Omicron variant takes hold.

Why it matters: The holidays — and the inevitable spread of Omicron — will only heighten the risks that unvaccinated Americans face from COVID, in all its forms.

Where it stands: The U.S. is now averaging roughly 120,000 new COVID cases per day, a 26% increase over the past two weeks.

  • Average cases briefly dipped below 100,000 as the summer's Delta wave receded, but the virus has rebounded quickly. New infections were climbing even before Thanksgiving, and holiday travel likely is accelerating the virus' spread even further.

Deaths are also on the rise, after tapering off in the fall.

  • The virus is now killing about 1,300 Americans per day, on average. That's a 14% increase over the past two weeks.
  • At this rate, the U.S. will pass 800,000 total deaths — roughly equivalent to the population of the Charleston, South Carolina, metro area — before Christmas.

What we're watching: The Omicron variant is gaining ground worldwide, but Delta remains the dominant strain of COVID-19 within the U.S. — and it's still doing a lot of damage.

  • Vaccinated people are highly unlikely to die or get seriously ill from the Delta variant, though they can still contract the virus.
  • Some preliminary research suggests that the vaccines may be somewhat less effective against Omicron, at least without a booster dose.

But no matter how those gradients shake out, the people at the greatest risk of severe illness and death are the unvaccinated.

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