US tops one million new daily COVID-19 cases – a global record

Infections are spreading across the US, fuelled by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Protesters hold signs in California decrying vaccine mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic
A woman protests against coronavirus vaccine mandates in California on Monday, the same day the US set a global record for new COVID-19 infections [Mike Blake/Reuters]

The United States has reported more than one million new COVID-19 cases in a single day, setting a grim new global record, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

There were 1,082,549 new cases in the US reported on Monday following the long New Year’s weekend, according to the tracking group.

The number of cases reported on a Monday is typically higher than other days because of delays in weekend tallying, especially after a three-day holiday weekend.

The figure reported on January 3, however, is double the number of daily cases compared with the previous Monday.

The rolling average of new cases over seven days, which experts see as more reliable, was 501,205 new daily cases as of Tuesday morning, the university reported.

The new data comes after top US pandemic adviser Dr Anthony Fauci said the country was experiencing “almost a vertical increase” in coronavirus cases. The peak, he said, may be only weeks away.

The Omicron variant, the most transmissible strain to date, accounted for about 59 percent of US cases in the week ending December 25, according to government modelling.

Fauci said the experience of South Africa – where the strain was first detected in late November and peaked quickly, then subsided nearly as speedily – offered some hope.

Rates of death and hospitalisation in the US have been lower in recent weeks compared with previous spikes in case numbers, but the sheer number of new cases is causing concern for some health centers.

“We are hearing a lot of fear and concern across the country from this new variant,” Al Jazeera’s John Hendren reported from Washington, DC. “One in four medical centres with an ICU are reporting that they are 90 percent or more full.”

More than 36,400 people in the US have died from COVID-19 in the past 28 days, according to Johns Hopkins data released on Tuesday. The country recorded more than 6.9 million new cases over that period.

A healthcare worker sits a COVID19 testing centre.A healthcare worker reaches out to give a person a nasal swab to test for COVID-19, as the Omicron variant continues to spread across the US [File: Cheney Orr/Reuters]

In the past seven days, the country has recorded more than 3.36 million new cases, according to Johns Hopkins research, another record.

The US record during previous waves was 258,000 cases per day, for the week of January 5 to 11, 2021.

US officials have struggled to find a balance that will protect public health without gravely damaging the economy or slamming key services like policing and air travel.

Last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) halved the isolation period for asymptomatic COVID cases to five days, in a bid to blunt mass Omicron-induced disruption as infections hit new highs in multiple states.

Separately on Tuesday, the CDC shortened the recommended interval between the second dose and booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from six months to five months.

Boosters aside, the immediate concern for many Americans stems from a lack of easy-to-access tests. “Most people can’t get a test and they are walking around not knowing if they are contagious or not,” Al Jazeera’s Hendren said. “In New York City, the testing positive rate is 33 percent.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, more than 827,800 Americans have died from COVID-19.

Sixty-three percent of the country’s population is fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins data.

Addressing the situation on Tuesday afternoon, US President Joe Biden again urged Americans to get vaccinated.

“There are still 35 million people who are not vaccinated … There is no excuse for anyone being unvaccinated.” Biden said. “We have in hand all the vaccines we need to get every American fully vaccinated, including boosters.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies