The Omicron COVID-19 variant set off an unprecedented increase in cases and hospitalizations in the US. The nation registered 12.4 million new coronavirus cases between December 1, 2021, when the first case of the Omicron variant was detected in the US on January 10.
That’s 21% — more than one in five — of the nation’s 60.2 million COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.
During the first week of 2022, 1.2% of Americans tested positive for COVID-19. The weekly case rate was more than double the pre-Omicron high in mid-January 2021, when 0.5% of Americans tested positive.
It remains to be seen if the Omicron variant will cause a similar increase in COVID-19 related deaths.
National data that breaks down vaccinated or unvaccinated populations isn’t currently available. But past data shows vaccinated people are far less likely to be infected with the virus or die from COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the variant accounted for more than 95% of all cases to start 2022.
Preliminary data shows the surge is affecting all age groups — especially young adults. School-age children had the highest case rates among age groups from September through November. Since Omicron appeared, however, adults 18 to 39 years old had the highest case rates.
While cases spiked, COVID-19 hospitalizations also reached new pandemic peaks. On January 10, an average of 25,285 adults and 1,612 children were hospitalized every day with either confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases. Both figures were lower on January 11, though it is too early to indicate a downward trend.
Prior to Omicron, adult hospitalizations peaked at 24,284 per day in January 2021. The previous pediatric hospitalization peak was 1,092 children daily in September 2021.
It is unclear how the Omicron case spike could impact deaths. The CDC says more research is needed to understand how severe the Omicron strain is compared to other variants.
In past COVID-19 waves, deaths increased a few weeks after cases rose. The current two-week average of 592,000 cases is 175% higher than two weeks ago while the two-week average of 1,432 deaths is down 91%.
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