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US hits record of nearly 500,000 Covid cases in 24 hours: Experts says US will see ‘viral blizzard’


The United States is the midst of its largest Covid surge yet, as the Omicron variant continues to ravage much of the nation. The country recorded nearly 500,000 cases in a single day on Wednesday, the most by any country in the world at any point during the pandemic, and experts predict it will only get worse in the coming weeks.

On Wednesday, 489,267 positive Covid cases were reported. According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of new cases in America are of the Omicron variant, which was first discovered last month by South African health officials. The U.S. is now averaging 300,387 new Covid cases per day, a pandemic record and the first time the 300,000 mark has been reached in America.

More than 500,000 Covid cases were reported on Monday, though that was a result of a large backlog of cases from the Christmas holiday. Wednesday’s total is the largest increase from only a single day. 

Dr Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and member of President Biden’s transition team’s Covid task force, warns that things are only going to get worse as well. He told CBS Morning on Thursday that what is happening now is unlike anything Americans have experienced at previous points in the pandemic.

‘We are going to see a viral blizzard over the next five to eight weeks,’ he said. 

‘We’re already beginning to see these very large numbers you’re talking about, they’re going to increase substantially. The real question we have is how many of those will then actually [suffer] severe illnesses requiring hospitalization, and even deaths and that’s the challenge we’re at right now. We don’t quite understand that.’

He warns that even fully vaccinated people should avoid large, crowded, environments in the near future because of how infectious the new virus strain is. 

Amid this recent surge, though, the CDC has reduced minimum quarantine times for people with a confirmed case of the virus from ten days to five days in an effort to relieve the stress the surge has put on the economy and other day-to-day societal operations. 

Research shows that the emerging virus strain has the ability to circumvent protection provided by the existing crop of Covid vaccines. The variant has over 50 mutations, including more than 30 on its spike protein. It is the most mutated virus strain yet, and its many mutations allow it to evade protection provided by the Covid vaccines.

The initial two-shot regimens of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna jabs have limited ability to prevent infection by Omicron, but they still can reduce symptoms, experts hope. Both companies have released data showing their booster shots can re-establish some protections against the variant. The one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine is believe to be ineffective at preventing Omicron infection.

A recent study finds that the J&J booster shot can re-establish protection as well, though, and is 84 percent effective at preventing infection from the new virus strain.

Most recent CDC data shows that 73 percent of Americans have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 62 percent are fully vaccinated. The agency also reports that 68 million Americans have received a Covid booster shot. 

Omicron is not the only worry Americans have, though. The Delta variant, which caused a massive surge in cases over summer, is lingering as well and still causing case surges in unvaccinated pockets of the U.S. The CDC still projects that the variant accounts for between 25 percent to 60 percent of new cases in America. While the vaccines are effective against the strain, not all eligible Americans have received the jab. 

Dr Michael Osterholm (pictured), director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and member of President Biden's transition team's Covid task force, warns that a 'viral blizzard' in the future will worsen America's Covid situation

Dr Michael Osterholm (pictured), director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and member of President Biden’s transition team’s Covid task force, warns that a ‘viral blizzard’ in the future will worsen America’s Covid situation

A study from the Africa Health Research Institute, the group who initially confirmed the Covid vaccines were not as effective against Omicron, also found this week that antibodies developed after infection from the new strain are effective against the Delta variant. This leads them to believe that Omicron will eventually push out Delta – and other strains – and take total control. Since the variant is comparatively mild as well, it will likely also become endemic – staying with the world in perpetuity the way the common cold does.

Whether Omicron or Delta, the impact of the virus is being felt nationwide. New daily cases in the U.S. have grown by nearly 150 percent over the past two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The nation also recorded 2,184 deaths on Wednesday, and averages 1,546 deaths per day – an 18 percent increase over the past two weeks. The CDC reports that 75,477 Americans are currently hospitalized due to complications with Covid, an 11 percent increase over the past two weeks. Omicron has also been confirmed in 15,057 cases nationwide as well. 

The CDC also reports that every single county in the United States, across all 50 states, is an area of ‘high’ Covid transmission, a first for the pandemic.

Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, has warned in the past that what happens in the UK in regards to Covid will likely happen in the U.S. weeks later. Across the pond, a record 183,037 people are hospitalized with the virus, as London has emerged as a global virus hotspot. While some fear lockdown could return, Prime Minister Boris Johnson quelled concerns Thursday by telling Britons to enjoy the New Years holiday.

Other European nations like France, Germany, Norway and Denmark have instituted lockdowns to deal with recent Omicron surges, though, as the variant strikes much of the world.

Meanwhile it South Africa, where the variant was first discovered and the site of the first recorded Omicron outbreak, cases and hospitalizations are starting to decline – signaling the variant could already be running out of steam. 

Omicron strain may protect against Delta and usher in endemic phase of Covid, study finds

Catching the Omicron variant of Covid may also help people fend off Delta, new research suggests.

Academics took blood samples from people struck down with the ultra-infectious variant and measured their antibody levels. They then looked at how well the virus-fighting proteins reacted to both Omicron and Delta.

Lab tests, conducted two weeks after patients joined the study, showed antibody levels spiked 14-fold in response to Omicron. 

But there was also a 4.4-fold increase against Delta, according to the findings which took the researchers by surprise.

Other studies delving into the topic of cross-variant immunity showed antibodies made in response to Delta reacted poorly to Omicron.

Researchers analyzed blood from 13 patients who had recovered from Omicron. Six were unvaccinated.

And the majority of the volunteers had been hospitalized during their battle with the virus.

Their blood samples were then tested in laboratory experiments against live versions of both the Omicron and Delta variants.

 

As the Omicron variant continues to spread, Osterholm has other dire warnings as well. The former Biden advisor to MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Thursday that spread of the variant could cause ‘everyday life’ to stop operating as normal.

‘Right now we have a very imperfect situation that’s going to require some very imperfect responses,’ he said.  

‘Over the next three to four weeks, we are going to see the number of cases in this country rise so dramatically that we’ll have a hard time keeping everyday life operating.’

‘Already we are seeing it in our healthcare settings where we can lose 10 to 20 percent of healthcare workers who are not available to work. 

‘We are seeing that right now in critical infrastructure areas where people can’t come to work.’

Late last week, and early this week, thousands of American flights had to be canceled as airliners struggled with staffing issues because of how many employees were out with Omicron. In response, the CDC cut the required quarantine time for a positive Covid case to five days, from ten, in a move Director Rochelle Walensky said was to ‘keep the critical functions of society open and operating.’

‘You would like to have more time to allow people to clear the virus and not potentially be transmitting it,’ Osterholm said of the situation.

‘At the same time, we got to have people who are there every day who are doing the work. How can you provide the safest environment? I support what they are doing. I think it’s not perfect. It won’t be perfect and what we have come before us in the next few weeks is hardly going to allow for a perfect response.’   

While the entirety of the U.S. is getting hammered by this winter surge in some form, some states in the south are especially being struck by the variant.

Florida has suffered a 1,006 percent increase in new cases over the past two weeks, the most of any state during that time period. The Sunshine state does not consistently report cases, though, meaning the most recent publicly available figures may not be accurate. 

Other southern states like Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi are also among the leaders in recent case growth, with daily cases jumping more than four-fold in each according to official data. 

New York is also among the state’s struggling the most with during this new Covid surge. The state recorded 69,000 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, with nearly 40,000 in New York City alone. New York has often served as a harbinger for other states and major metro areas for what is to come in the future, and could signal that things will only get worse going forward for much of America. 

London, capital of the UK, has emerged as another hotspot of the new variant, and could be a preview of the future for New York and other major U.S. cities. 

More than 400 people were admitted to the hospital with Covid symptoms in the city on Wednesday, crossing a key threshold that could lead to lockdowns in the city.  

Nationwide, the UK recorded 183,037 new cases a new record that also includes some backlogged cases from the Christmas weekend. New daily cases in England are up 45 percent over the past week without an increase in testing capacity. In England, more than 10,000 people are hospitalized with the virus as well.

Officials from the National Health Service (NHS) are saying that the situation may not be as dire as it seems, though. Even people that are hospitalized are often suffering from shorter stays, with less severe cases, and are not usually dying. There are also many people being admitted to the hospital out of abundance of caution, and not because they actually require the intensive treatment.

Amid speculation that lockdowns could return to the UK as cases rise, Prime Minister Johnson told Britons to enjoy their New Years holiday on Thursday, signaling that no new restrictions will come before Saturday at least. 

Johnson has focused his Omicron plan on the Covid boosters after initial data showed their effectiveness against the new strain. He implemented a massive booster roll out strategy that included enlisting the military and thousands of volunteers to keep clinics running en masse. 

Meanwhile in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, some lockdown restrictions have been implemented, as the nation’s suffer surges of their own. Some fear this means many will travel from the more restrictive nations into England to celebrate the New Years holiday, and potentially bring Covid with them.

The UK accounts for a vast majority of the 334,000 Omicron cases confirmed worldwide, with 210,122 confirmed as of Thursday morning. The large figure is mainly due to the country’s robust, and successful, public health centers that have sequenced and traced cases at an unmatched level so far.



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