Speed Reads

Omicron Rising

Omicron is just starting to hit the parts of the U.S. with the most unvaccinated senior citizens

The U.S. seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases topped 700,000 for the first time over the weekend, reflecting the spread of the highly infections Omicron variant, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing data from Johns Hopkins University. 

Deaths, a lagging indicator, are rising slower, nearing an average of 1,600 a day, from closer to 1,250 a day early last week — though the new average may be artificially high from holiday-related reporting lags, the Journal says. "Public-health experts believe it will take more time to see how the rapid climb in Omicron cases will translate into deaths." Data from early Omicron hot spots suggests the U.S. may not fare as well as Britain and South Africa, where Omicron cases have already peaked. 

In three of the U.S. cities with the earlier surges of COVID-19's Omicron variant — New York, Boston, and Chicago — "deaths have followed cases at a slightly reduced scale than in previous peaks," The New York Times reports. And "the number of COVID-19 patients who need intensive care or mechanical ventilation is approaching levels not seen since last winter."

"Omicron is hitting the U.S. much harder than the U.K. (or South Africa) in large part because we have significantly fewer double-vaxx'd adults and significantly fewer boosted seniors," The Atlantic's Derek Thompson suggests. And the numbers from New York City seem to bear that out.

Unvaccinated seniors are especially vulnerable to bad outcomes from COVID-19. Nationwide, about 12 percent of Americans 65 and older are not fully vaccinated, the Times reports, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. "Many parts of the country where that rate is estimated to be highest are also places where surges fueled by the Omicron variant have not yet begun or are only just beginning. Those places include parts of the Midwest and the Mountain West and more rural areas across the country."

In New York state, for example, the health department said Saturday that 40 hospitals across the state have been told to stop nonessential elective surgeries because they are in high-risk regions or low-capacity facilities, the Journal says. "This includes all hospitals in the Mohawk Valley, Finger Lakes, and Central New York regions," in rural parts of New York.