By Ciara Linnane
The U.S. daily death toll from COVID-19 rose on Tuesday to its highest level since last winter’s peak, according to a New York Times tracker and other sources, after the surge in cases in December and January driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant.
Deaths lag cases and hospitalizations, with the former now finally coming down from their highs, while the latter appear to be reaching a peak.
The U.S. is averaging 2,362 deaths a day, the tracker shows, up 35% from two weeks ago. But cases are down 14% at 652,278 and hospitalizations are up 9% at 155,247.
Cases are falling fastest in northeastern states that were first to see waves of omicron cases and remain at undesirably high levels in states that were hit later, including Alabama, North Dakota and Kansas.
Most COVID deaths are happening in unvaccinated people, who remain at high risk from omicron. Those who are vaccinated and have had a booster shot are still seeing high protection from severe illness and death and while there have been many breakthrough infections in that group, most suffer mild symptoms or are unsymptomatic.
The stark reality of the risk to unvaccinated people is illustrated in this chart from data group Our World in Data, showing fatalities in the week of Dec. 4:
On a local level, a nurse from Michigan had this to say on Tuesday:
The World Health Organization said there was a record of more than 21 million new cases of COVID globally in the week through Jan. 25, a 5% increase from the week before. That was the most since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
The highest number of new cases were in the U.S., France, India, Italy and Brazil. The U.S. also had the higher number of fatalities, followed by Russia.
The WHO highlighted that omicron has fast become the leading variant in most countries and confirmed that data continue to show it to be more contagious but less lethal than other variants.
“However, due to the very high numbers of cases, many countries have seen a significant increase in the incidence of hospitalization, putting pressure on healthcare systems,” the agency said in its weekly epidemiological update.
The update did not mention a new subvariant of omicron that has been named BA.2 for now, although WHO earlier this week said officials should start investigating it to see if it is more risky than the original omicron variant, now called BA.1. In a statement on its website , WHO said BA.2, which differs from BA.1 in some of its mutations, “is increasing in many countries.”
“Investigations into the characteristics of BA.2, including immune escape properties and virulence, should be prioritized independently (and comparatively) to BA.1.,” said the statement.
Other COVID-19 news you should know about:
• Prime Minister Boris Johnson is bracing for the conclusions of an investigation into allegations of lockdown-breaching parties, a document that could help him end weeks of scandal and discontent, or could bring his time in office to an end, the Associated Press reported. Allegations that the prime minister and his staff flouted restrictions imposed on the country to curb the spread of the coronavirus have caused public anger, led some Conservative lawmakers to call for Johnson’s resignation and triggered intense infighting inside the governing party.
• A study conducted by researchers at the universities of Düsseldorf and Reading of 257 soccer players who contracted COVID found that their performance was diminished after recovery, AFP reported. The study found that players’ passing-success rate fell by up to five percentage points and that the virus affected footballers over the age of 30 more seriously. It also suggested that teams with the most players who had recovered from COVID had worse results than their rivals. “So far, the results suggest a permanent alteration in the player’s abilities,” said James Reade, director of the economics department at the University of Reading and co-author of the study, albeit with a caveat: “The majority of players had not been vaccinated (at the time of the study) and this remains a complicating factor.”
• Quest Diagnostics /zigman2/quotes/201001842/composite DGX +1.14% is now offering consumers a new COVID-19 testing option that allows them to order a rapid at-home test and then collect the swab sample while being monitored by remote healthcare professionals. Quest said the new service can be used to complete proctored testing requirements for international travel, verification of a positive test to get a prescription from a doctor, and to return to work or school.
• Russia reported a record number of new coronavirus infections for a sixth straight day, the Moscow Times reported. A total of 74,692 new infections and 657 deaths were recorded over the last 24 hours. Russia has reduced the quarantine period for patients to seven days from 14, despite the high numbers. Germany also hit a new daily record of 164,000 COVID-19 infections on Wednesday as the lower house of parliament prepared to debate proposals to either require or robustly encourage residents to be vaccinated, Reuters reported.
Here’s what the numbers say
The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose above 359.8 million, and the death toll is now above 5.61 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the world with 72.2 million cases and 872,828 fatalities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that 210.6 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 63.5% of the total population.
Some 84.8 million have received a booster, equal to 40.3% of the fully vaccinated.