U.S. Covid Death Toll Tops 800,000 As Omicron Variant Makes Inroads Into Delta’s Dominance

One day after the United States recorded its 5 millionth case of Covid-19, the Johns Hopkins University count of virus-related deaths in the country topped 800,000. That’s larger than the population of Seattle, Detroit or Denver, according to census data.

On October 1 of this year, the nation crossed the 700,000 deaths threshold. That means America experienced 100,000 Covid-related deaths in the past two-and-a-half months. The more virulent Delta Variant is responsible for nearly all of those deaths.

The news comes as the more transmissible Omicron variant is increasing its foothold across the globe. It has thus far been identified in 77 countries and 33 states, according to CDC Director Rochelle Walinsky today.

The variant now accounts for at about 3% of the genomically-tested samples across the nation, said Walinsky. That number rises to 13% in New York & New Jersey, per new data out of the CDC today. The first case in the U.S. has been traced back to a patient who presented symptoms on November 15 of this year.

In Britain, officials have warned of a “tidal wave” of infections associated with the variant, the number of which have been doubling every two days, they say. The first cases in the UK were identified on November 27, though it may have been there earlier. By Monday, there were 4,713 confirmed cases of Omicron. The situation is worse in London.

“While Omicron represents over 20% of cases in England, we’ve already seen it rise to over 44% in London and we expect it to become the dominant Covid-19 variant in the capital in the next 48 hours,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament on Monday.

While experts like Walinsky say that Omicron is more transmissible, it also seems to be less virulent.

A study by Discovery Health in South Africa found that the risk of hospital admission among adults diagnosed with Omicron was 29% lower than it was during that country’s original wave of the virus in 2020.

The study also found that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine were 70% effective against hospitalization due to Omicron, but only 30% effective in preventing infection. Children were 20% more likely to be admitted to the hospital when infected with Omicron vs other variants, according to the research.

That left researchers and others warning of a surge in cases. “A large wave is coming,” one Biden Administration official told Axios. “”It will be fast. It won’t be as severe, but regrettably, there will be plenty of hospitalizations.”

World Health organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned today against “dismissing” Omicron.

“Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems,” he said.

“Health workers are exhausted,” said Dr. Michael Ryan of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme today. “Many countries have lost up to 20% of their health workers. Health systems are weaker than they were a year ago. You can get up after the first punch, but it’s very hard to get up after the second and the third. And that’s the difficulty. We’re relying on health workers and a health system that have been weakened by this response.”

Ryan then urged countries to make plans for Omicron.

“We have some time to get better prepared and to make sure our systems are able to cope.”

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