Dec 23, 2021 - Health

The Omicron wave begins

Note: Maryland is unable to report new cases due to a technical issue; Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Axios Visuals

U.S. coronavirus cases rose by 27% over the last two weeks as the Omicron variant quickly became dominant, although the rise was unevenly distributed around the country.

Why it matters: The spike in cases in cities like New York and D.C. are likely a preview of what will soon hit other parts of the country.

By the numbers: The U.S. is now reporting a rolling average of more than 150,000 new cases a day, and experts say this number will only go up.

  • The CDC said this week that Omicron now accounts for more than 73% of U.S. cases, a nearly a six-fold increase in its share of infections in just one week.
  • More than 1,300 Americans are still dying of COVID every day, a 6% increase over two weeks ago. But these deaths are almost entirely from the Delta variant, as deaths lag several weeks behind infections.

The big picture: The Northeast is seeing particularly large case increases, and the South is seeing a rise as well.

  • Plenty of states, however, are seeing cases go down, although it's unlikely they'll escape the impact of the Omicron variant in the coming weeks.

Where it stands: New York City appears to be, once again, the epicenter of the pandemic, although D.C. has joined it.

Between the lines: Omicron's arrival signals an unprecedented number of cases in the near future, but it's much less clear what it'll mean for hospitalizations — an indicator that lags a couple of weeks behind cases.

  • Preliminary research continues to suggest that Omicron is causing milder illness than earlier variants.
  • Two new studies from the U.K., released yesterday, found that Omicron infections are less likely to lead to hospitalization, the New York Times reports. But that's mostly because Omicron tends to reinfect people who have already had COVID, not because it is inherently significantly less dangerous than the Delta variant, according to the researchers.
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