America’s tally of new cases ticked down slightly for the first time since Christmas, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.
The country reported 5.23 million cases in the week ending Tuesday, down from 5.28 million cases in the seven-day period ending Monday. The earlier tally likely included tests deferred into that week from a long holiday weekend.
U.S. case counts are up 34% from a week ago, and on Tuesday 47 states reported higher case counts than a week earlier; 21 states set records for cases in a week; 48 states reported more COVID-19 patients in hospital beds; and 41 states reported more COVID-19 patients in intensive-care units, data from Johns Hopkins and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show.
Still, there are encouraging signs. Boston has been a hot spot, but Dr. Mark Siedner of Massachusetts General Hospital told CBS in Boston there are early signs the city has “turned a corner.” One of those signs is a wastewater tracking system – virus particles found in wastewater are no longer infectious but can still be measured and can reflect trends among people contributing to the wastewater.
“The wastewater data are in, and the news is good,” tweeted Bill Hanage, associate professor at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. The data is “providing solid evidence, that importantly can’t be put down to exhausted testing capacity or other factors.”
– Mike Stucka
Also in the news:
►Unvaccinated Virginians became infected at four times the rate of fully vaccinated state residents over the two-week period that ended Jan. 1, state health officials said. The hospitalization and death rates were also about four times higher.
►The consumer price index jumped 7% last year, the fastest pace since 1982, the Labor Department said Wednesday. COVID-driven worker shortages and supply-chain bottlenecks were blamed.
►West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has tested positive for COVID-19 and is “experiencing moderate symptoms,” the governor tweeted Tuesday night. Gov. Justice is fully vaccinated and boosted.
►Scientists are seeing signals that COVID-19′s alarming omicron wave may have peaked in Britain. The variant has proved so wildly contagious that it may already be running out of people to infect.
►The United States is facing its worst blood shortage in more than a decade, largely as a result of a drop in blood drives because of the pandemic, the American Red Cross said.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 62 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 842,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 313.9 million cases and nearly 5.5 million deaths. More than 207 million Americans – 62.6% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
📘What we’re reading: Omicron hit the U.S. hard and fast in the past month, but modeling by several universities shows the wave of infections may have crested — and hospitalizations and deaths should follow.
As new variants continue to emerge, including the incredibly contagious omicron variant, experts are calling for upgraded protective options such as N95 and KN95 masks. Finding and purchasing quality masks on the consumer market at a fair price is possible now – and it might be the next, best purchase you can make to protect yourself and others during the COVID-19 pandemic. The N95 and KN95 masks both are rated with 95% filtration efficiency. N95 masks are certified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. KN95s – which the CDC notes are the most widely available mask – are manufactured in China and meet standards specific to China. Learn more here.
– Felicity Warner, Reviewed
Shortages at grocery stores across the country have grown more acute in recent weeks as omicron continues to spread and winter storms have piled on to the supply chain struggles and labor shortages. The shortages being reported nationwide are widespread, impacting produce and meat as well as packaged goods such as cereal. Curt Covington, senior director of institutional credit at AgAmerica, told USA TODAY that the trends for specific food shortages are intermittent and varied.
“Shortages depend on the item, store and region of the country,” Covington said. “Shortages can be driven by supply chain issues, consumer behavior or environmental factors, so it’s hard to pinpoint what will be affected next.”
Wastewater followers aren’t alone in forecasting a decline in the omicron surge. Modeling by several universities also shows the wave of infections may have crested – and hospitalizations and deaths should follow. COVID-19 infections peaked Jan. 6, according to researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. That’s close to estimates by the University of Texas, Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, which puts the peak somewhere from Jan. 9-13.
“That’s a range between the most pessimistic and optimistic scenarios,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the consortium.
Because hospitalizations lag infections by about two weeks, the University of Washington team estimated the daily U.S. hospital census, including incidental admissions with COVID-19, will peak by Jan. 25. Read more here.
– Elizabeth Weise
The White House announced plans Wednesday to send an additional 5 million rapid tests to schools each month, at no cost, as some districts struggle to return to in-person learning amid a record surge in COVID-19 infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will work with states to submit requests for school districts in need of additional rapid tests. Once the initial requests are submitted, the first shipments will be delivered later this month, according to a fact sheet provided by the White House.
The Department of Health and Human Services will also expand lab capacity to support up to 5 million additional PCR tests per month. Schools can gain access to the additional PCR tests by submitting requests to three federally funded regional providers that offer testing materials, supplies and lab results through four regional hubs.
The Oregon Department of Justice and the Better Business Bureau have launched investigations into an Illinois-based company that runs COVID-19 testing sites across the nation.
The Oregon Department of Justice opened a civil investigation into the Center for COVID Control this week for Unfair Trade Practices Act violations, spokesperson Kristina Edmunson said.
The company operates testing sites across the nation – some as “pop-ups” run out of sheds and mobile storage units. Many Americans have rushed to the sites amid a surge of COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant and a national shortage of tests. But dozens of people nationwide have reached out to USA TODAY expressing concerns about the company.
Many said they discovered the sites by searching for nearby testing options on Google and were surprised by how the sites were run. Some said they received their test results later than promised or not at all.
At least two people filed complaints about the Center for COVID Control testing sites to the Oregon Department of Justice in October, USA TODAY reported last week. The individuals expressed concerns about the safety and legitimacy of the sites, alleging the sites offer “fake testing.” One said they were given a test labeled as having expired in June of 2021.
– Grace Hauck, USA TODAY
This means nearly 1 million COVID-19 tests that the federal government considered expired will now be made available to Floridians who have been struggling to find tests.
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried alleged in late December that Gov. Ron DeSantis stockpiled COVID-19 tests that were “set to expire imminently,” despite the high demand for such tests as omicron surged.
During a news conference with DeSantis on Thursday in West Palm Beach, Florida, Kevin Guthrie, the director of the state Division of Emergency Management, confirmed that Florida had 800,000 to 1 million COVID-19 tests that expired Dec. 26-30.
According to Guthrie, they had originally expired in September, but the state received a three-month extension on those test kits from the manufacturer and federal regulators.
– Frank Gluck, Fort Myers News-Press
Contributing: The Associated Press