US scores new record for daily COVID cases
US hospitalization suffers from staff shortages and huge testing for COVID-19 amid reaching new record for daily cases.
The US has hit its highest-ever average of new COVID cases as Omicron spreads at a fast pace amid health worker shortages.
A tracker maintained by Johns Hopkins University showed that the weekly average of new cases was 265,427 as of Tuesday, surpassing the previous peak of 251,989 set in mid-January 2021.
Howard Forman, a professor at the Yale School of Public Health, told AFP that the figure is likely the tip of the iceberg, with "probably more than a half-million" currently infected every day.
The heavily-mutated Omicron strain, which according to the US government modeling accounted for around 59 percent of national cases in the week ending December 25, is the most transmissible seen to date.
The strain is frequently able to bypass prior immunity conferred by vaccination and prior infection.
Omicron is already stretching previously strained hospital systems throughout the country, with health workers quitting because of burnout.
The Director for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rochelle Walensky, told reporters that while the trend is worrying, the hospitalizations and deaths "remain comparatively low right now."
Omicron less severe than Delta
US President Joe Biden's top medical advisor Anthony Fauci underscored that the "spike in cases is out of proportion to the increase in hospitalization" and that, based on the totality of global research, "all indications point to a lesser severity of Omicron versus Delta."
Animal and lab data indicate Omicron is less effective at spreading in the lungs, Fauci added.
Forman told AFP that northeastern US states still battling Delta were faring worse than places such as Florida, where the primary strain is Omicron.
More than 820,000 Americans have died from COVID, making the US by far the hardest-hit country in the world, ahead of Brazil and India.
By October, the latest month for which data has been analyzed, unvaccinated people had a five times greater chance of being infected with COVID, and a 14 times higher chance of dying, compared to vaccinated people.