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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

COVID-19 hospitalizations in the U.S. this week dropped below 100,000 for the first time since December, with sharp declines happening in almost all states, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

Why it matters: CNN reports that while the decrease in hospitalizations is promising, experts are concerned that new variants of the virus will increase case rates to record heights if the national vaccine rollout faces challenges.

By the numbers: 97,000 Americans remain hospitalized with the virus, which is significantly less than the 132,400 on January 6, according to CNN.

  • While the current rate of infection is about the same as it was December 1, the last time hospitalizations were this low, the daily death rate is twice as high.
  • The average daily death rate over the past week remains above 3,000, yet there were 1,000 deaths per day in September and October.
  • The death rate could increase significantly if there is an outbreak of coronavirus variants discovered in U.K., Brazil or South Africa, which appear to be more transmissible.

Driving the news: Infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm said Sunday the U.S. needed to speed up vaccines or the next COVID-19 surge from variants could become a "category five" hurricane.

Where it stands: 29.5 million vaccine doses have been administered in the US so far, according to CDC data.

Go deeper: Coronavirus dashboard

Go deeper

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Jan 31, 2021 - World

Rich countries' pandemic preparedness failures

Reproduced from Branko Milanovic using GHS Index and Worldometer data; Chart: Axios Visuals

Some of the richest countries in the world — the ones that had been considered the best prepared to handle a pandemic — turned out to be the ones that suffered the highest death rates.

Why it matters: The SARS-CoV-2 virus has proven that preparedness needs to be global, and coordinated.

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Science helps New Zealand avoid another coronavirus lockdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (L) visits a lab at Auckland University in December. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand has avoided locking down for a second time over COVID-19 community cases because of a swift, science-led response.

Why it matters: The Health Ministry said in an email to Axios Friday there's "no evidence of community transmission" despite three people testing positive after leaving managed hotel isolation. That means Kiwis can continue to visit bars, restaurants and events as much of the world remains on lockdown.

10 Senate Republicans propose compromise on COVID relief package

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

A group of 10 Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), sent a letter to President Biden Sunday requesting a meeting, saying they have developed a counterproposal to the president's COVID-19 relief plan.

The big picture: The proposal includes $160 billion in spending for vaccines, testing and tracing, treatment and medical equipment. The senators said the plan "could be approved quickly by Congress with bipartisan support," if it gained Biden's support.