The holiday this year accompanied by an increase in Covid-19 cases so high that it surpassed a record set earlier this year. On Tuesday, the United States hit a seven-day average of 265,427 new Covid-19 cases daily, according to data from Johns Hopkins University – darkening the previous record of about 251,989 daily cases reported on January 11.
The increase in infections is reflected in admissions to pediatric wards in parts of the country. On average, 305 children battled Covid-19 in a hospital on any given day of the week ending December 26, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The sober figure is an increase of more than 48% from the previous week and 10.7% lower than the top average for 342 children admitted to hospitals with the virus in late August and early September.
The number of children in need of medical care at the Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC, has nearly doubled, according to Roberta DeBiasi, head of the infectious diseases department at the hospital.
DeBiasi explained that her hospital admitted about 20 children at its highest, but that number has risen to between 40 and 50 during the Omicron rise. She also noted that most of the patients are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or immunocompromised.
“So it’s really the big difference, and it’s not because the virus is more serious. It’s because the overall infectivity and the number of cases has really increased,” DeBiasi said.
Still, she said hospital staff have been able to keep mortality low.
“Even our children who are extremely ill, critically ill, we have become very good at taking care of these children,” she said.
In New York City, pediatric hospital admissions increased fivefold over a three-week period.
In general, experts warn that the next few weeks will be tough for the country in terms of dealing with yet another Covid-19 rise.
“There is no doubt that January will be filled with a lot of short-term challenges. Hospital beds, staff shortages, tests, lack of almost everything. It is difficult for the system to handle so many cases at once,” Andy Slavitt, former senior adviser for the Biden administration’s Covid-19 response team, CNN’s Jim Acosta reported Tuesday.
At-home test kits are less sensitive to Omicron, the FDA says
Millions of Americans have turned to the home Covid-19 test as a precaution before traveling or gathering for the holidays. Both experts and officials have been pushing to get people tested before they gather, especially indoors.
But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Tuesday that rapid antigen testing may have less to detect the Omicron variant.
Studies of antigen tests using patient samples that had the live virus showed that while the tests detected the Omicron variant, they did so with less sensitivity, the FDA said. Sensitivity measures how often a test can give a positive result when someone has the disease.
Several studies of the tests are underway, and the FDA says people should continue to use them.
“The tests are still worth it. Do not let anyone believe that the FDA said tests are no longer good,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Tuesday. “They say they’re less sensitive. Now. They’ve never been 100% sensitive,” Fauci told CNN’s Michael Smerconish.
“What the FDA is saying today is that when you look at Omicron and its ability to detect Omicron, some of the tests have a further reduction in sensitivity, but they still say the tests are useful and should be used,” Fauci explained.
Some schools should consider postponing return after vacations, says expert
As Covid-19 cases increase, areas where there is a high level of transmission should think twice about returning to personal learning after the holiday break, said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the school of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Tuesday.
“I would not do it now,” Hotez told CNN’s Poppy Harlow. “You have a screaming level of transmission in the Northeast, in New York City and Washington, DC. To try to open schools at this point, it’s hard to imagine how things will go well.”
He added, “There’s just too high a level of virus transmission when you’re talking about a virus that can be as contagious as measles among a mostly unvaccinated population, and that’s why it would be very harsh.”
New York City and DC have both seen record-breaking Covid-19 cases in recent days.
New York State broke its one-day positive Covid-19 case record on Sunday, reporting 49,708 positive cases on Christmas Eve – actually topping the state’s previous record high of 44,431, according to data released Sunday by Governor Kathy Hochul’s office.
In DC, 1,904 new Covid-19 cases were reported last Wednesday – surpassing the record set the day before, when 1,524 positive coronavirus cases were recorded.
Still, New York City’s public schools, which are the largest public school system in the country, will reopen as planned Jan. 3 after a winter break, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.
The city is renewing its Covid-19 test policies in an effort to keep more students in school during the recent rise, de Blasio said.
Schools will be provided with home test kits for classrooms when a student is tested positive and students will take two tests a day over seven days, de Blasio said. With this new policy, any student who has no symptoms and tests negative after a day of two quick tests will return to school the next day, he continued.
The previous policy stipulated that fully vaccinated students who were identified as close contacts should not be quarantined if they were symptom-free and tested, but unvaccinated students should be quarantined for 10 days or tested.
CNN’s Jen Christensen, Virginia Langmaid, Taylor Romine and Adrienne Winston contributed to this report.