Cases of COVID-19 continue to drop significantly across the country, as the most recent surge caused by the Omicron variant is declining at a rapid pace.
The United States reported 330,128 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, and 3,546 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker. The 7-day average of new daily cases is 385,425, with 2,658 daily deaths, according to the New York Times tracker.
New daily cases have decreased by almost 50% in the last 2 weeks, but the average daily death rate — which lags by 4 to 6 weeks behind case rates — has increased by 35%. An analysis of new federal data shows 100,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 since Thanksgiving.
It will take several weeks for hospitalizations and deaths to follow case count trends; The HHS Protect Public Data Hub shows 122,627 inpatient beds in use for COVID-19. Hospitalization rates are down 16% in the last 14 days.
Despite progress, 14 states are struggling with intensive care unit (ICU) capacity of 15% or less, ABC News reports. Those states include Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Texas.
US hospitals look abroad for staff
Meanwhile, stressed hospitals have forced healthcare systems to look abroad for staff, according to the Associated Press. Because of a temporary cessation of employment visas during the first part of the pandemic, the United States has double the number of green cards to offer skilled professionals — including nurses.
Typically, hospitals are drawn to nurses from English-speaking countries, including Jamaica and the Philippines. Industry experts say the demand for international nurses has risen between 300% and 400% since the pandemic began.
Vaccine requirements in flux
The US Army said yesterday that it will immediately begin removing soldiers who have refused COVID-19 vaccination, the Washington Post reports. The Pentagon announced a vaccine requirement last August. A vast majority of service members have complied with the mandate, but a small percentage has refused.
The CDC COVID Data Tracker shows 63.9% of Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 75.4% have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 41.8% of vaccinated Americans have received a booster dose.
Meanwhile, airlines and other travel-industry groups asked the Biden administration yesterday to drop COVID-19 test requirements for vaccinated passengers before US-bound flights, CNBC reports.
Rising COVID-19 in Europe, other global headlines
- Europe reported 12 million cases over the past week, marking the highest weekly number of cases since the start of the pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) European regional office said today at a briefing. Though hospitalization continues to rise, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions haven't risen significantly, and deaths appear to be plateauing, Hans Henri Kluge, MD, MPH, said. He said high levels of immunity from vaccination and infection, combined with a seasonal decline in cases and lower Omicron severity, could produce a "cease fire" in the battle against COVID-19. He urged countries to take measures to protect themselves against future threats, including keeping vaccination protection high, stepping up surveillance, and promoting a culture of personal responsibility for taking protective measures.
- More European nations that are still reporting record Omicron cases announced they were easing restrictions, including Sweden, which is dropping all of its measures next week despite high case levels, and the Czech Republic, which will start by opening up restaurants and entertainment venues to unvaccinated people.
- Beijing yesterday reported 55 COVID-19 cases in Winter Olympics athletes and staff, the highest daily total so far. The opening ceremony is tomorrow, and China, one of the few countries with a "zero COVID" policy, has a closed-loop system in place to separate games participants from the public.
- New Zealand, after 2 years of COVID-19 travel restrictions, today announced a phased reopening plan that in October will allow for all international arrivals.
- The global total today rose to 386,891,794 cases, and 5,707,157 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.
CIDRAP News Editor Lisa Schnirring contributed to this story.