The number of new US cases of COVID-19 has dropped for the second day running after hitting record highs on Monday, as experts say the Omicron surge may be nearing a peak in New York but will continue to rise in the rest of the country.
The US recorded 643,660 new cases on Wednesday, down from the pandemic record of more than 1 million on Monday. The seven-day rolling average of 587,098 new cases remained up 95 percent from a week ago, according to a DailyMail.com analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.
Deaths remained low, with 1,986 new deaths recorded Wednesday, a 15 percent decline from week-ago levels on a rolling average basis. On a seven-day rolling average, the US has recorded 1,318 deaths. Hospitalizations are increasing, but remain well below their peak levels a year ago. About 85,000 Covid patients are currently hospitalized in America’s hospitals, compared to a peak of 124,000 during last winter’s surge, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Around the world, signs are strengthening that Omicron burns out quickly. In South Africa, where the variant was first identified, cases have fallen sharply from their mid-December peak.
In the UK, case counts are still rising, but there are signs that Omicron has peaked in London, the epicenter of the surge there. King’s College London scientists estimated cases fell by a third after 33,013 people in the city were estimated to be catching the virus every day on January 3, compared to 49,331 the week before.
A similar dynamic may be about to unfold in the US, where Omicron could peak as soon as this week in early hotspots New York and Florida, while continuing to surge though the rest of the country, said former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.
‘I think you’re already seeing signs of a top in terms of cases in New York and Florida,’ Gottlieb said Thursday morning on CNBC. ‘It’s going to work through other parts of the country more slowly, there’s many parts of the country where Omicron hasn’t arrived yet.’
‘But certainly in the large metropolitan areas you’re going to see a peak in the next couple weeks, and in the parts of the country that were hit first, like New York, Florida, the mid-Atlantic, probably as early as this week,’ he said.
In a dramatic shift in tone, President Joe Biden now appears to be urging Americans to prepare to live with the virus as a feature of everyday life, contrasting with his earlier vows to vanquish and eliminate it.
The White House has dismissed the need for lockdowns in this wave of infections, pointing to mounting evidence that Omicron is less severe than earlier strains, and urged schools to remain open.
Instead, Biden continues to stress the importance of vaccinations, saying this week: ‘You can control how big an impact Omicron is going to have on your health.’
‘We’re seeing COVID-19 cases among vaccinated in workplaces across America, including here at the White House. But if you’re vaccinated and boosted, you are highly protected,’ the president added.
As deaths and hospitalizations remain relatively low and cases increase, experts have dubbed the phenomenon ‘decoupling’. Hospitalizations and deaths used to increase at the same rate as cases during surges, but now they increase at lower rates.
In the U.S., decoupling may be attributed to both Omicron’s inherent biology and high levels of immunity in the population.
A growing number of studies are showing that Omicron is less likely to cause severe symptoms than past coronavirus strains.
Unlike other variants, Omicron can rapidly replicate in the upper airways – but has limited capacity to wreak havoc in the lungs, where the worst respiratory symptoms take place.
At the same time, the U.S. has high levels of immunity from vaccinations and past infections.
More than 70 percent of Americans have received at least one vaccine dose, while about one-third have been infected at some point, computational biologist Trevor Bedford recently told STAT News.
‘Factored together, that’s 80-odd percent [of people with some immunity,’ Bedford said.
While the vaccines are less effective at protecting against Omicron infections than they were at preventing infection from past strains, vaccine protection against severe disease remains strong.
Nevertheless, Omicron continues to have major impacts on daily life and the economy. On Wednesday, nearly 1,700 flights were cancelled in the US, the 11th straight day with more than 1,000 flight cancellations.
In Chicago, the public school system was shuttered for a second day running on Thursday, after the teachers union voted to refuse to deliver in-person instruction over health and safety concerns.
District and union officials negotiated behind closed doors Wednesday afternoon but failed to produce an agreement.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said the situation with the union left ‘no choice but to cancel’ Thursday, something that will affect roughly 350,000 students.
Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said teachers don’t want to return to in-person instruction until the current Omicron surge has subsided.
‘We’d rather be in our classes teaching, we’d rather have the schools open. What we are saying though is that right now we’re in the middle of a major surge, it is breaking all the records and hospitals are full,’ he said at a Wednesday morning news conference.
City officials, who’ve characterized the union action as an ‘illegal work stoppage’ and said teachers that don’t show up won’t be paid, were also mulling legal options to force teachers back in classrooms.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city had filed an unfair labor practices complaint, but didn’t elaborate.
In Massachusetts, two dogs trained to detect an odor distinct to people who are sick with COVID-19 will visit three school districts in Bristol County this week in a bid to keep schools safe.
A black Labrador named Huntah and a golden Lab called Duke can detect the smell of the virus on surfaces and will sit to indicate when they pick up the scent.
The dogs will visit schools in the Freetown, Lakeville and Norton school districts, WBZ-TV reported Tuesday.
‘With COVID, whether it’s the Omicron, whether it’s the Delta, our dogs will hit on it,’ said Bristol County Capt. Paul Douglas. ‘And if there’s a new variant that comes out in six months, hopefully there isn’t, but if there is one, COVID is COVID.’
In other respects, life is forging ahead more or less as normal. In New Orleans, Carnival season kicked off on Thursday despite the Omicron surge.
The annual festivities were cancelled entirely last year, after officials realized that 2020’s event had been a superspreader event in the early days of the pandemic.
This year’s Carnival begins on Epiphany, January 6 as always, and comes to a raucous climax on Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, which falls on March 1 this year.
In what has become a traditional kickoff to the season, the Phunny Phorty Phellows will gather at a cavernous streetcar barn and board one of the historic St. Charles line cars along with a small brass band.
Vaccinations were required in keeping with city regulations and seating on the streetcar was to be limited and spaced. And, in addition to the traditional over-the-eye costume masks, riders were equipped with face coverings to prevent viral spread.
Larger, more opulent parades will follow in February as Mardi Gras nears and the city attempts to leaven the season’s joy with caution.
‘It was certainly the right thing to do to cancel last year,’ said Dr. Susan Hassig, a Tulane University epidemiologist who also is a member of the Krewe of Muses, and who rides each year on a huge float in the Muses parade. ‘We didn’t have vaccines. There was raging and very serious illness all over the place.’
Now, she notes, the vaccination rate is high in New Orleans. While only about 65 percent of the total city population is fully vaccinated, according the city’s statistics, 81 percent of all adults are fully vaccinated.
Another major event, Super Bowl LVI, is set to go forward as planned in Los Angeles, though the NFL has acknowledged scouting backup sites in case LA imposes lockdown restrictions before the big game.
‘We plan on playing Super Bowl LVI as scheduled at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles on Sunday, February 13,’ NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told Reuters.
‘As part of our standard contingency planning process that we conduct for all regular and postseason games, we have contacted several clubs to inquire about stadium availability in the event we cannot play the Super Bowl as scheduled due to weather-related issues or unforeseen circumstances,’ he said.
‘Our planning process for the Super Bowl in Los Angeles is ahead of schedule and we look forward to hosting the Super Bowl there to culminate another fantastic NFL season for our fans and clubs.’
The February 13 championship game at SoFi Stadium comes as officials in Los Angeles have been weighing whether to cap attendance at large events to stem the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant.
Los Angeles County has in the past instituted some of the strictest public health policies in the nation to combat the pandemic.
However, McCarthy noted that Sunday will mark the 20th game at the stadium this season with no attendance limits.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday it expanded the eligibility of Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE’s booster doses to those 12 to 15 years old.
The move came after a panel of outside experts advising the CDC voted earlier to recommend booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine be made available for ages 12 to 15.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted 13 to 1 to recommend that the U.S. health agency support booster shots for those aged 12 to 15 at least five months after their second dose.
The panel also said the CDC should strengthen its recommendation for boosters for ages 16 and 17. The agency had previously made the shots available to those teenagers, but had stopped short of suggesting that all of them should receive the additional jab.
The CDC said in a statement it now recommended that adolescents age 12 to 17 years old should receive a booster shot 5 months after their initial Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination series.
Original Article: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10375267/US-COVID-Cases-fall-slightly-643-660-new-infections-single-day-1-986-deaths.html