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The U.S. is now reporting the highest 7-day average of daily new COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, surpassing the record from January.
On Tuesday, the U.S. average rose above 265,000 new cases per day, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. The previous record was about 252,000 daily cases on Jan. 11.
Public health officials estimate that the case numbers will continue to increase sharply due to the highly contagious Omicron variant.
“January is going to be a really, really hard month. And people should just brace themselves for a month where lots of people are going to get infected,” Ashish Jha, MD, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told CNN.
Most people who are vaccinated and received a booster shot won’t have a severe illness, but public health experts are concerned about unvaccinated people, he said.
“A lot of people who have not gotten a vaccine are going to end up getting pretty sick, and it’s going to be pretty disruptive,” Jha said. “My hope is as we get into February and certainly by the time we get into March, infection numbers will come way down, and it’ll also start getting into spring, and the weather will start getting better. And that will also help.”
Hospitalizations are beginning to increase, with more than 84,000 COVID-19 patients in hospitals across the country, according to the latest data from the Department of Health and Human Services. Last week, about 70,000 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.
The rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations among pediatric patients is also on the rise and nearing the record high set in September, CNN reported. Several states have reported increases of about 50% in pediatric admissions in December, and New York City has seen an increase of about five times the admissions over a 3-week period.
“We’ve just had all of these kids mixing together with everybody else during Christmas,” Claudia Hoyen, MD, director of pediatric infection control at UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Ohio, told CNN.
“We have one more holiday to get through with New Year’s, and then we’ll be sending everybody back to school,” she said. “Everybody is kind of waiting on the edge, wondering what we’ll end up seeing.”
So far, preliminary data suggests that the Omicron variant causes milder illness in children, especially compared with the Delta variant, according to The New York Times. The increase in pediatric hospitalizations seems to be a result of the large number of children who are becoming infected with the Omicron and Delta variants, as well as low vaccination rates among children over age 5.
In the week ending Dec. 23, about 199,000 COVID-19 cases were reported nationally among children, which was a 50% increase, compared with the beginning of December, according to the latest report from the American Academy of Pediatrics. About 1 in 10 American children have tested positive for the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic, the group said.
Last week, an average of 1,200 children were hospitalized with COVID-19 each day, marking an increase from 800 daily pediatric admissions at the end of November. Hospital leaders and critical care doctors told the Times that nearly all of the children they’ve seen hospitalized with COVID-19 this month have one thing in common: They were unvaccinated or under-vaccinated.
“What we’re seeing in our ICU makes it crystal clear that vaccination is the single most important thing you can do to protect your kid from getting sick with this virus,” James Schneider, MD, chief of pediatric critical care at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York City, told the newspaper.
As of Dec. 22, about 6 million U.S. children ages 5-11 had received at least one vaccine dose, representing 22% of the age group, according to the latest update from the American Academy of Pediatrics. About 15 million children ages 12-17 have received at least one dose, representing 62% of the age group.
Johns Hopkins University: “Track COVID-19 Trends Across the U.S.”
CNN: “The U.S. just hit a record average of daily new Covid-19 cases.”
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Hospital Utilization: HHS Protect Inpatient Bed Dashboard.”
The New York Times: “Omicron Is Not More Severe for Children, Despite Rising Hospitalizations.”
American Academy of Pediatrics: “Children and COVID-19: State-Level Data Report,” “Children and COVID-19 Vaccination Trends.”