US shatters its average daily Covid-19 case record again. Experts describe coming weeks as a 'tidal wave' and 'blizzard'
(CNN) -- A day after reporting its highest average daily Covid-19 case number, the US shattered the record Thursday, with an average of 355,990 infections reported every day in the past week, according to Johns Hopkins University.
"Given the size of our country -- and the diversity of vaccination versus not vaccination -- that it likely will be more than a couple of weeks (until Covid-19 cases peak) ... probably by the end of January," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, told CNBC.
Roughly 62% of the country is fully vaccinated, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only about 33% of fully vaccinated adults have gotten boosters, which experts say are critical to protect against severe illness from the variants.
In the US, states are seeing their highest case and hospitalization numbers ever. Some governors are calling in the National Guard.
New York reported more than 76,500 new cases Thursday, the governor's office said, breaking its single-day record. Hospitalizations hit about 8,000, an 8% spike from the day before. Hospitalizations have risen almost 20% since Monday.
"Get vaccinated, get boosted, mask up and avoid large indoor public gatherings when possible," said Gov. Kathy Hochul, later announcing she was extending the mandate for businesses to have a masking or vaccine requirement to February 1.
Arkansas also set a case record, as more than 4,970 residents tested positive in a day, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday. Maryland, reporting more than 10,870 new cases Wednesday, beat a state record that was set days earlier and reported its highest hospitalization rate this week.
New Jersey, meanwhile, identified more than 28,000 new Covid-19 cases via PCR testing, Governor Phil Murphy said Thursday, "roughly quadruple from just two weeks ago, and four times as many cases than during the height of last winter's surge."
The number of positive cases is likely higher due to at-home testing, he added.
He said that as of Thursday evening, 3,864 Covid-19 patients were being treated across the state, "more than double in just two weeks," the governor said, adding 70% of hospitalized Covid-19 patients are unvaccinated.
"Our hospitals right now are at roughly the same numbers they were on the worst day of last winter's surge," Murphy said. "The problem is that right now we don't see any sign of let up."
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is deploying 1,250 National Guard troops, he said on the day the state reported its highest hospitalization number. Georgia also deployed 200 troops in the same week that six major health systems saw 100% to 200% increases in hospitalizations, Gov. Brian Kemp said. New York is doubling its National Guard deployment to 100 and is preparing for 80 Guardsmen to undergo emergency medical training next month, Hochul said.
Things will get worse before they get better, one expert said.
"We know that over the next five to six weeks we're going to continue to see transmission of this virus throughout this country, much like a viral blizzard," said Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. "With that, we are going to see a perfect storm in our health care settings."
Child Covid-19 hospital admissions reach record-high
With more virus spreading in the country, more children are getting sick and being hospitalized than at any other point in the pandemic.
An average of 378 children were admitted to hospitals on any given day over the week ending December 28, according to the CDC and US Department of Health and Human Services.
That's a 66% jump from the previous week and an all-time record, beating the one set at the end of August and early September, when an average of 342 children were admitted.
The vast majority of children admitted to hospitals are unvaccinated, said Dr. Lee Savio Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"Where I work and practice here in DC at Children's National, about half of our hospitalizations ... are children under 5," Savio Beers said.
The number of children facing severe conditions is relatively low, but combine those with the "gigantic numbers of cases" and the percentage of unvaccinated Americans, "and I'm really worried that we're going to be in for a tidal wave of admissions, particularly for kids in the coming weeks," said Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
The vaccination rate among children -- about 8% in Alabama -- adds to worries, Marrazzo said.
Savio Beers warned, "I think it's just so important for us to remember that we're protecting ourselves, but we're also protecting those little ones who aren't yet eligible for vaccination."
A vaccine for children younger than 5 likely won't be available until mid-2022.
"For those parents of the under-5 group, an important thing to know is that most of the kids who have been hospitalized with Covid were also co-infected with other things like (respiratory syncytial virus) or flu, said Dr. Megan Ranney, a professor of emergency medicine at Brown University's School of Public Health.
"So, please," she said, "go get your kid a flu vaccine, make sure that you and the rest of the family are adequately protected and have your kid wear a mask when they're out in public," she said.
The US Food and Drug Administration is expected to broaden eligibility for Pfizer's Covid-19 boosters to children ages 12 to 15 in coming days, according to a person familiar with the agency's plan.
Asked about boosters for adolescents and younger teens, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the FDA "is looking at that right now."
"Of course, the CDC will swiftly follow as soon as we hear from them and I'm hoping to have that in ... the days to weeks ahead," Walensky said.
Schools navigate reopening
The high case and hospitalization numbers and rapidly spreading Omicron variant have sparked another round of debate about what a safe return to school looks like.
"My concern is now schools are going to be opening right at a time when this thing is peaking," said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of Baylor University's National School of Tropical Medicine. "The,n even more kids are likely going to get sick, so we're going to be in for a very rough three or four weeks."
Despite the climbing cases, the US has the tools and resources and it's "critical that we do what we can" to keep schools open five days a week, US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Thursday.
"The goal is to make sure our students are safe and our staff are safe, but I believe with surveillance testing, with mitigation strategies, our default should be to have our students come back in," Cardona said. There "are going to be challenges with that and in some places a short-term closure may be necessary in order to safely return students back and have adequate staffing, but we really need to learn how to thrive during this pandemic."
In Massachusetts, a state teachers union representing 115,000 members is urging the education commissioner to close schools Monday to test staff. The state Department of Primary and Secondary Education received 200,000 tests this week, and closing Monday for a day of testing "will allow our school districts to make prudent decisions around staffing needs so they can continue in-person learning for students if it is safe or develop contingency plans," Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy said.
In Florida, Miami-Dade County Public Schools became one of the first districts in the state this week to change its Covid-19 policy due to the explosion of cases. It requires adults entering its buildings and buses to wear masks, and students are also "strongly encouraged" to mask up.
In Chicago, where cases and child hospitalizations have surged, the city's top health expert said schools can remain open if the right strategies and precautions are in place.
Parents should get their families vaccinated and ensure children are comfortable wearing masks, city Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. If children aren't feeling well, they should stay home.
"I have no concerns about school being open, but it's really important that where children or adults are having symptoms, we consider that it is Covid until proven otherwise," she said.
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