The official beginning of winter is also ushering in a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Dec. 20, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that the highly transmissible Omicron variant had become the dominant strain in the U.S., surpassing the Delta variant and accounting for 73 percent of virus sequencing tests. And while scientists are working to discover more about the latest version of the virus, certain states are already beginning to experience the worst COVID surges they’ve seen in months.
The national daily COVID case average continues to rise in the U.S., seeing a 22 percent spike over the past week to 44 cases per 100,000 people, according to data from The Washington Post. And while hospitalizations are still below the 100,000 patient mark seen during the Delta surge in September, they’ve also seen a two-week rise of 14 percent to around 69,000 as the new variant begins to spread, CNBC reports.
During an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union on Dec. 19, Anthony Fauci, MD, chief White House COVID adviser, gave a grim outlook when asked by host Jake Tapper whether he expected to see record-high numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from the disease due to the arrival of the latest variant.
“Yes, well, unfortunately, Jake, I think that that is going to happen,” Fauci predicted. “We are going to see a significant stress in some regions of the country on the hospital system, particularly in those areas where you have a low level of vaccination, which is one of the reasons why we continue to stress the importance of getting those unvaccinated people vaccinated.”
“It is going to be tough,” Fauci admitted. “We can’t walk away from that, Jake. We can’t because with Omicron that we’re dealing with, it is going to be a tough few weeks to months as we get deeper into the winter.”
Read on to see which states have experienced COVID surges of more than 60 percent over the past week as of Dec. 21, according to data from The Washington Post.
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- New cases in the last seven days: 19 cases per 100,000 people
- Percent increase in the last seven days: 64 percent
While California has seen highs and lows with COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic, a recent surge is causing concern for some officials about the coming weeks. The state’s hospitalization rate has increased by 10 percent over the past two weeks to 3,919 as of Dec. 20, according to data from The Times.
“To prevent ourselves from getting in trouble over the holidays, we’re asking everyone to take a lot of caution as you gather and celebrate,” Barbara Ferrer, PhD, Director of Public Health for Los Angeles County, said during a recent briefing. “If we fail to take commonsense safety measures right now, we could find ourselves in a dangerous place by the end of the month and into January, which could dramatically impede our recovery journey.”
- New cases in the last seven days: 94 cases per 100,000 people
- Percent increase in the last seven days: 73 percent
Cases have skyrocketed in New York with the emergence of the Omicron variant. Single-day case records were broken for four days in a row over the weekend and into Monday when state officials reported nearly 23,400 new infections. Region 2—designated by the CDC as New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands—is also reporting a much higher Omicron case average, seeing 90 percent caused by the variant compared to the national rate of nearly 75 percent. Still, top officials maintained a positive outlook on the latest developments.
“It’s not March of 2020. It’s not even December of 2020. Just to keep things in perspective, it is milder than Delta,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said of Omicron. “We are avoiding a government shutdown because we now have the tools available to all of us—vaccinations, booster shots, masks—particularly for the variant we’re dealing with.”
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- New cases in the last seven days: 25 cases per 100,000 people
- Percent increase in the last seven days: 86 percent
The latest surge of COVID cases in Georgia appears to be taking off just as it’s dealing with another major issue. State health data shows that hospitalizations have risen nearly 50 percent over the past month, with more than 1,200 patients statewide.
“We are fortunate that our cases are relatively low right now in south Georgia, but based on what is happening all across the country, we do not expect that to last long,” Scott Steiner, CEO of Albany, Georgia-based Phoebe Putney Health System, said in a statement on Dec 17. “We strongly encourage all eligible individuals to receive a COVID vaccine and booster shot, and please be cautious as you travel and gather over the holidays.”
- New cases in the last seven days: 20 cases per 100,000 people
- Percent increase in the last seven days: 86 percent
As cases have more than doubled in Louisiana over the past week, officials are bracing for the anticipated surge Omicron will likely bring to the state. Gov. Bel Edwards continues to urge residents to get vaccinated, citing state health data that finds 80 percent of patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
“We’ve been through it so many times that the telltale signs are all there,” Catherine O’Neal, MD, the chief medical officer of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, told U.S. News & World Report. “We can help to at least dampen the surge. I think it’s coming, and our community has to prepare for it, but how high it gets, how painful this gets for all of our families, it depends on our community.”
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- New cases in the last seven days: 23 cases per 100,000 people
- Percent increase in the last seven days: 104 percent
A spike in cases in the Lone Star State has been followed by rising hospitalizations, causing concern for some local healthcare professionals. As of Dec. 20, the daily average patient count in Texas had gone up by five percent over the past two weeks to 3,686, according to data from The Times.
“Those rural counties where we have low vaccination rates and have lost hospital infrastructure, those I think we should be the most concerned about,” Rebecca Fischer, PhD, MPH, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, told The Texas Tribune. “The past 20 months we have seen hospitals close, we’ve seen hospitals lose their staff. … We are not in a great place with our health care infrastructure to handle another mass influx of cases.”
- New cases in the last seven days: 67 cases per 100,000 people
- Percent increase in the last seven days: 204 percent
After two weeks of downtime due to a technical glitch caused by a cyberattack, the Maryland Department of Public Health was able to relaunch its website on Dec. 20. Unfortunately, cases appear to have skyrocketed since data was last reported on Dec. 3, adding 28,541 to the state’s overall total. The state’s positive test rate also jumped from 5.4 percent to 10.2 percent over the same period.
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- New cases in the last seven days: 33 cases per 100,000 people
- Percent increase in the last seven days: 236 percent
The latest COVID surge in Florida has caused case numbers to more than double in just a week, bringing them back to levels not seen in three months. Local healthcare workers are urging residents to get vaccinated and keep their guard up to help slow the spread of the virus. “Florida is really a sitting duck because we have stopped all infectious control practices,” Frederick Southwick, MD, an infectious disease specialist, told local Jacksonville NBC affiliate WJXX.
- New cases in the last seven days: 42 cases per 100,000 people
- Percent increase in the last seven days: 323 percent
On Dec. 17, health officials in Hawaii reported that the state’s seven-day new case average had increased from 101 ten days earlier to 297. “These numbers reflect a disturbing trend. The Delta variant, the Omicron variant, large gatherings, increased travel, and holiday get-togethers appear to be fueling the surge,” Elizabeth Char, MD, the state’s health director, said in a press release.
Other top officials also urged the public to do what they could to stop the spread of the virus. “We are definitely concerned,” Gov. David Ige told Hawaii News Now. “The increasing number of cases, we did anticipate, but certainly we want to remind everyone that the best way out of this pandemic is to get vaccinated.”
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