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Omicron Drives COVID-19 Spike in United States

A record-breaking 1,080,211 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the United States on 3 January 2022—the highest one-day tally worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard.

Global cases took a massive jump as well, with weekly case rates shifting from 5.246 million the week of 26 December 2021 to 10.189 million the week of 2 January 2022.

The driver behind this rapid escalation appears to be the Omicron variant, which is more transmissible, although reportedly less severe, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). But the peak in new cases is still weeks away, warned U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci. Despite the milder infections, the sheer number of cases threatens to overwhelm hospitals, the BBC reported.

In response to the rising case numbers, workplaces and schools are facing staff shortages and shutdowns. Many schools reopened virtually following the winter break, postponing a return to in-person learning due to a lack of rapid tests for students and teachers and illness among staff.

Since the variant was first identified in November, it quickly spread to at least 128 countries, according to the WHO. However, case numbers and rates of hospitalization or death are “decoupling,” said WHO Incident Manager Abdi Mahamud. Omicron affects the upper respiratory tract and is less likely to sink into the lungs and cause severe pneumonia; overall, this means that the Omicron variant generally produces milder symptoms, although further research is being conducted, Reuters reported.

Omicron’s rapid spread also seems to indicate that it burns out quickly—early evidence suggests that London may already be past the peak of Omicron infections, according to The Washington Post. Reports of new cases in the city have been plateauing and hospital admissions are slowing down. The wave throughout the United Kingdom is still high, however, lagging two to 10 days behind London. While Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged caution in response to the spike, he has not announced any further restrictions or lockdowns.