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CDC chief says U.S. COVID cases likely have not yet peaked

by Reuters
Friday, 7 January 2022 13:50 GMT

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WASHINGTON, Jan 7 (Reuters) - The Omicron-driven surge in U.S. COVID-19 cases has likely not topped out yet, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday as schools, hospitals and businesses struggle with rising caseloads.

"I don't believe we've seen the peak yet here in the United States," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told NBC News' "Today" program.

Health officials have urged Americans not to get complacent in the face of the highly-transmissible variant, noting that even if it turns out to induce milder disease the fact that it is more contagious means a higher volume of cases, including more severe ones.

The United States reported 662,000 new COVID cases on Thursday, the fourth highest daily U.S. total ever recorded and just three days after a record of nearly 1 million cases was reported, according to a Reuters tally.

The seven-day average for new cases set a record for a 10th day in a row at 597,000 new infections, while COVID hospitalizations reached nearly 123,000 and are approaching the record of over 132,000 set last year, the data showed.

Deaths, an indicator that lags behind hospitalizations, remain fairly steady at 1,400 a day, according to the tally.

"We are still seeing those numbers rising," Walensky said, noting that while cases outpaced hospitalizations and deaths, rising hospitalizations were primarily among the unvaccinated.

Rising cases have forced hospital systems in nearly half of U.S. states to postpone elective surgeries.

While many school systems have vowed to continue in-person instruction, some have faced ad hoc closures as cases rise. Chicago Public Schools, the third-largest U.S. education district, were closed for a third day on Friday amid a teacher walkout over COVID-19 protections.

U.S. and other officials have said schools can be safely opened, especially amid widely available vaccines and boosters, and the CDC on Thursday issued new guidelines for schools on isolation policies.

While the United States is fighting a surge right now, the country will have to face the long-term impacts, Walensky said.

"We are definitely looking at a time ahead of us where COVID... will be an endemic virus," she told NBC.

Officials continue to press vaccinations as the best protection against COVID, although federal mandates requiring them have become politically contentious.

Later on Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court will weigh requests to block President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate for larger employers and a separate similar requirement for healthcare facilities.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Lisa Shumaker Editing by John Stonestreet and Frances Kerry)

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