The United States shattered its daily record for COVID-19 cases as two highly infectious variants of the virus—delta and omicron—continue to upend daily life across the country. There were a whopping 441,278 infections recorded nationally on Tuesday, which is almost 150,000 more than the previous high from last winter. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that this number may be a tad misleading, as it could include a backlog of cases due to the Christmas holiday. “The counts of cases will become more stable after the new year,” a CDC spokesperson said.
The average number of daily cases also broke a record when the entire week is taken into account. There have been an average of 258,312 daily new COVID-19 cases in the United States over the past seven days, according to Reuters. The previous record of 250,141 had been set on Jan. 8, 2021. The omicron variant was estimated to make up 58.6 percent of all COVID-19 variants circulating in the United States on Dec. 25, according to the CDC.
The United States is hardly alone in seeing a sharp rise in cases fueled by the highly infectious variant. Coronavirus infections hit a record high globally, with an average of almost 900,000 cases per day over the course of the past seven days as of Tuesday. The World Health Organization reported an 11 percent increase in COVID-19 cases around the world last week compared with the previous week. France, Britain, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, and Malta all recorded daily records on Tuesday. In Australia, daily new infections are soaring at an alarming rate, reaching 18,300 on Wednesday; the previous high was 11,300 cases, and was reached a day earlier. The sharpest increases are being detected in the Americas, which saw cases soar 39 percent to nearly 1.48 million during the period.
Of course, cases of the virus aren’t necessarily the most important metric to pay attention to; hospitalizations and death rates say more about the damage the virus is doing. The WHO delivered a bit of good news on that front , noting that early data from South Africa, the U.K., and Denmark suggests omicron carries with it a decreased risk of hospitalization (though the organization noted it’s still too early to reach a firm conclusion). That may help explain why even as cases are soaring, the number of new deaths worldwide attributed to COVID-19 declined 4 percent last week, to 44,680.