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Expand chart
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.

Go deeper

Updated 13 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: New York Supreme Court grants stay for indoor mask mandate — Neil Young demands Spotify take down music over vaccine misinformation — Biden admin withdraws temporary vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker

Scoop: Stephanie Ruhle to replace Brian Williams on MSNBC

Photo: Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

MSNBC will soon announce plans to move morning anchor Stephanie Ruhle to the 11 pm ET hour that Brian Williams turned into an elite destination, two sources familiar with the move tell Axios.

Details: The 9 am ET hour, currently hosted by Ruhle, will become part of MSNBC's flagship morning show, "Morning Joe," which currently runs from 6 am to 9 am ET.

Oath Keepers leader denied bail on Capitol riot sedition charge

Oath Keepers co-founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

A federal judge ordered Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes to remain jailed Wednesday until trial on charges stemming from the Capitol riot.

Why it matters: The judge said the most prominent far-right figure charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection had access to weapons and his alleged "continued advocacy for violence against the federal government" gave credence to prosecutors' view that, if released, Rhodes could endanger others.

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