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Expand chart
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.

Go deeper

Jan 15, 2022 - Health

Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron

Three COVID-19 testing companies place testing locations outside Grand Central Terminal on Jan. 14 in New York City. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Experts are warning that subsequent COVID-19 variants are likely to come after Omicron, AP reports.

Why it matters: The warnings come as there's no guarantee that subsequent variants "will cause milder illness or that existing vaccines will work against them," underscoring the need for widespread vaccination, AP writes.

Hope King, author of Closer
1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Peloton pumps its brakes

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Peloton’s popularity is falling as swiftly as it shot up.

Why it matters: Not all pandemic habits stick around. Peloton's trajectory over the past two years exemplifies how challenging it's been for companies to gauge shifts in consumer demand — particularly in sectors heavily altered by the pandemic.

First look: Senators propose bill to ban corporate PACs

Sens. Jon Ossoff and Mark Kelly. Photos: Chip Somodevilla (left), Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) will soon propose a bill prohibiting for-profit corporations from establishing and managing political action committees, according to a copy of the legislation obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The introduction of "The Ban Corporate PACs Act" comes amid heightened scrutiny on Capitol Hill regarding money in politics, including efforts to bar companies from influencing political campaigns and federal elections. It would likely face a court challenge and First Amendment concerns.