January 22, 2022

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U.S. Hit With Record Number of New Covid-19 Cases – The Wall Street Journal

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Covid-19 cases in the U.S. have continued to climb, reaching a pandemic record on Tuesday of 265,427 cases a day on average, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.

The average for Tuesday was about 13,400 greater than the previous high set on Jan. 11, 2021, although there was less testing during the earlier stages of the pandemic.

Covid-19 cases in the U.S. increased roughly 60% this week, largely because of the Omicron variant, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday at a White House Covid-19 briefing. Wednesday’s seven-day daily average of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. hit about 240,400 cases a day, according to the CDC.

“In a few short weeks, Omicron has rapidly increased across the country, and we expect it will continue to circulate in the coming weeks,” Dr. Walensky said.

As of Wednesday, the seven-day average of hospitalizations for confirmed and suspected Covid-19 was 77,840, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That’s an increase of about 14% over the past two weeks.

Daily reported Covid-19 cases in the U.S.

Note: For all 50 states and D.C., U.S. territories and cruises. Last updated
Source: Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering

The seven-day average of hospitalizations, though increasing, is below both the pandemic peak of 137,510 on Jan. 10, 2021, and the smaller peak of 102,967 on Sept. 4, 2021, during the Delta surge.

Many states paused reporting on cases and deaths during the Christmas weekend and plan to do so again for New Year’s. Those blackouts will blur tracking of the full extent of the pandemic’s trajectory until January, when reporting catches up.

Still, demand for Covid-19 testing has increased and pushed some providers to the limit. Urgent-care facilities across the country were short-staffed before the pandemic and with employees now falling ill, locations are forced to close, said Lou Ellen Horwitz, chief executive officer of the Urgent Care Association. The group represents more than 4,000 urgent-care centers in the U.S. and abroad.

“That’s the blow we can’t absorb,” she said.

CityMD, a chain of urgent-care clinics that provides testing in the New York City area, temporarily shut another dozen locations Wednesday after closing 19 last week. Approximately 120 clinics across New York City, Long Island, Westchester County and New Jersey remain open, according to company spokeswoman Joy Lee-Calio.

“The spread of Omicron and the demand for testing is stretching our teams very thin,” Ms. Lee-Calio said in a statement. “We may need to temporarily close more sites as this surge continues.”

To help combat Omicron, the Biden administration is opening up more Covid testing sites and delivering 500 million Covid tests to Americans. WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez breaks down why testing is still a pain point in the U.S., two years into the pandemic. Photo Illustration: David Fang

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine on Monday described how he is focused primarily on hospitalizations as opposed to how many people were testing positive for Covid-19, a key metric earlier in the pandemic. More than 5,000 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 in Ohio on Monday, the most since last winter’s surge. However, the difference now is that authorities have a handle on what and who is driving the high inpatient count, with more than 90% of the patients unvaccinated, said Mr. DeWine, a Republican.

“We’re seeing the power of the vaccine to keep people out of the hospital,” he said.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said he expects data on new infections to become inaccurate because many people won’t report home-testing results to authorities. “The key metric is going to be your hospitalization rate,” he said. “There is no gray area there.”

In France, a record high of nearly 180,000 daily infections were reported on Tuesday, but hospitalization rates remained far below earlier outbreaks, reaching 3,400 people in intensive-care units compared with highs of more than 7,000 in the spring. Some 77% of the population is now fully vaccinated, helping to soften the number of people seeking emergency care and the number of deaths.

A similar pattern is playing out in England, which reported around 117,000 new infections on Tuesday. The latest hospitalization data showed there were just over 9,500 people in the hospital, far below the 34,000-plus figures seen in January.

England’s Covid-19 hospitalization levels remain far below the highs of last winter.

Photo: hollie adams/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Health experts have cited high vaccination rates and the apparently milder disease caused by the Omicron variant as explanations for the relatively low hospitalization levels, which have given U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson confidence to hold back from ordering the kind of social-distancing measures and shutdowns enforced in other parts of Europe.

Research carried out in South Africa and the U.K. suggests that Omicron, while more transmissible, causes a milder form of the disease among vaccinated people than previous strains, such as Delta. A new study from the South African lab that has been at the forefront of research into Omicron suggests that infection with the new variant provides protection against Delta, sharpening the focus on the economic disruption caused by the latest wave of the pandemic—though researchers cautioned that prior infection from other variants and vaccination also might have contributed to the increased protection from Delta.

To help avoid staff shortages in essential sectors, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now advises that infected people who are asymptomatic can leave isolation after five days and should wear masks when around other people for another five days; those who are vaccinated and exposed to someone with Covid-19 should wear a mask for 10 days and try to get tested five days after exposure.

Some public health experts have criticized the CDC for reducing the isolation period for infected people and not requiring that they take a test before returning to work or other daily activities.

“Let me make clear that we are standing on the shoulders of two years of science, two years of understanding transmissibility,” Dr. Walensky said. “People are most infectious in the one to two days before symptoms develop, and the two to three days after. After five days, the risk of ongoing transmission substantially decreases.”

Employee absences due to infection from the Omicron variant led to thousands of flight cancellations over the Christmas weekend, while officials in the U.S. and elsewhere have expressed concern over how quarantines are affecting hospital staffing levels.

New York City, meanwhile, will send children back to public schools on Monday while ramping up testing capacity and making it easier for children who are exposed to stay in school, the mayor, the governor and incoming Mayor Eric Adams said on Tuesday.

The city and state are going to provide some three million rapid-test kits that will be distributed to students and staff who have shared a classroom with a positive case. Students who test negative and are asymptomatic will be able to remain in school. Officials said they plan to double the amount of regular testing of students in schools to track potential outbreaks and expand eligibility to include vaccinated students as well as staff.

In Canada, authorities in Quebec province said they had no option but to allow some Covid-positive key workers to keep working to prevent staff shortages from disrupting its healthcare sector. “Omicron’s contagion is so exponential that a huge number of personnel have to be withdrawn, and that poses a risk to the network capacity,” the province’s health minister, Christian Dubé, told a news briefing. “We made the decision that, under certain conditions, positive staff will be able to continue working according to a list of priority and risk management.”

Quebec reported 12,800 new infections on Monday, the highest daily figure of any region in Canada over the course of the pandemic.

In South Africa, meanwhile, where the Omicron variant was first detected, there are indications that hospitalizations are beginning to decline, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. Average daily hospital admissions in Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg, fell by more than 20% in the two weeks to Dec. 25 compared with the two weeks before. On a weekly basis, average daily admissions were down nearly 40% with declines also recorded in other provinces.

In China, the northern city of Xian is extending a lockdown for a seventh day on Wednesday after a cluster of Covid-19 infections. No cases of Omicron have been detected in the city so far, city authorities said.

The Omicron Variant

Write to Anthony DeBarros at Anthony.Debarros@wsj.com, James Hookway at james.hookway@wsj.com and Sabrina Siddiqui at Sabrina.Siddiqui@wsj.com

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