Jan 6, 2022 - Health

COVID cases soar by more than 200%

Data: N.Y. Times; Note: Maryland case counts may be lagging due to ongoing technical issues; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The number of new COVID cases more than tripled over the past two weeks, shattering records all across the U.S.

Why it matters: The Omicron variant appears to be significantly milder than its predecessors, and it's not leading to as much serious illness. But sky-high case counts are still a warning sign, especially in areas whose health care systems are already stretched thin.

By the numbers: The U.S. is now averaging nearly 550,000 new cases per day — a 225% increase over the past two weeks, and by far the highest levels of the entire pandemic.

Between the lines: In previous waves, a sharp increase in cases would translate into a similar increase in hospitalizations, and then deaths. Omicron, however, appears to cause severe illness at a much lower rate.

  • In South Africa and the U.K., patients who were infected with the Omicron variant were significantly less likely to require hospitalization than those infected with Delta.
  • In the U.S., the number of people who are in the hospital and infected with COVID is rising. But experts caution that those figures include a lot of people who went to the hospital for something else, and tested positive once they got there.
  • Intensive-care units have not seen a significant increase in COVID patients even as cases explode, the New York Times reports. That's a big change from the Delta wave, and another sign that Omicron is less severe.
  • COVID deaths are holding steady at roughly 1,300 per day, on average.

Yes, but: Even though the number is much smaller, some percentage of people infected with Omicron will become seriously ill. And if the number of overall cases is big enough, that can still translate into a lot of sick people.

  • Because the virus is so contagious, large numbers of health care workers have had to quarantine after testing positive, which makes it that much harder for hospitals to absorb even a small increase in patients.
  • Children also may be more susceptible to Omicron than they were to previous variants.
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