Covid Live Updates: US flight cancellations pass 2,500, New High in Staggering Week

Credit…Gabriela Bhaskar / The New York Times

The new year is here and has brought the Omicron-driven virus wave with it.

More than 3.5 million people worldwide died of coronavirus in 2021, almost twice as many as in 2020. The Delta variant created chaos around the world, and now the Omicron variant, which has already become dominant in the United States, is feeding on an increase in cases.

Omicron has spread to more than 100 countries since it was first identified in Botswana and South Africa in late November, infecting previously vaccinated people as well as those who have been infected in the past. But South African officials say their country has now reached its Omicron wave, and new cases are falling, all without a major increase in deaths – giving hope that while other countries may see similar weeks of intensity, they may also see dropouts and fewer deaths than in previous waves.

For the United States, the coming weeks look tough. “We’ll have a tough January, as cases will continue to rise and peak, and then fall rapidly,” said Ali Mokdad, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington who is a former scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While virus cases will still overwhelm hospitals, he said, he expects the proportion of cases that result in hospitalization to be lower than in previous waves. Animal studies suggest that Omicron does not invade the lungs as easily, which may explain its generally reduced severity.

New estimates from researchers at Columbia University suggest that The United States could peak on January 9 with about 2.5 million cases a week, although that figure can go as high as 5.4 million. In New York City, the first U.S. metropolis to experience a larger increase, researchers estimated that cases would peak in the first week of the new year.

“It’s shocking. It’s disturbing,” said Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist who led the Columbia modeling work. “We see an unprecedented number of Covid-19 cases.”

At the same time, Dr. Shaman, there is a possibility that as cases fall in areas that are now experiencing large Omicron increases, other areas that are currently less affected will see their own Omicron increases, leading to a more rounded case curve nationally. . The country’s hottest spots are now mostly gathered in the eastern half of the country.

The United States set a one-day record of 489,000 cases on Wednesday, then broke the record again on Thursday when it counted 582,000 cases, according to a New York Times database.

The number of new cases dropped from those record numbers on Friday, with many states not reporting data on New Year’s Eve. But the number was still unusually high with 443,000 new cases in just 28 states.

Even the staggering numbers from recent days are undercounting as the holiday season causes major distortions in testing and data reporting. The growing use of home testing makes the accounts even more questionable.

Genome sequencing shows that Omicron has exponential growth because some of its dozens of mutations appear to accelerate transmission. But new studies, including one which studied one million coronavirus patients in the UK, supports research showing that two doses of vaccines offer significant protection against serious illness, although Omicron has consistently been better at avoiding vaccines.

Doctors urge everyone who is unvaccinated to get their first vaccine dose as soon as possible, and everyone who is vaccinated to get a booster shot.

“We are all tired and ready for this to be over,” said Dr. Brian Garibaldi, clinical director of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. “But we still have a lot of work to do and a long way to go.”

Sarah Cahalan contributed with reporting.

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