New cases are rising across the U.S

The U.S. is still weeks away from a peak in the number of new COVID-19 cases as the country continues to report soaring rates of new infections due to the rapid spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant.

Airlines are still canceling flights, citing weather and outbreaks among workers. More lawmakers are testing positive for the virus, including Reps. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Young Kim (R-Calif.), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

“We believe cases in major metropolitan areas on the coasts will likely peak in the next two weeks,” Chris Meekins, a health policy expert and a health care analyst at Raymond James, told investors on Monday. “Areas in the Midwest will likely trail by a few weeks.”

Though infections with omicron are thought to be milder, the sheer volume in cases still means that hospitals are filling up. It takes about two weeks after cases first start to increase to see a rise in hospitalizations.

The U.S. is expected to hit a record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations within days, Meekins said.

There is a difference between people who are hospitalized for COVID-19, and people who test positive for the virus while in the hospital.

“Both of those things are happening at the same time,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday during a press briefing, later adding: “Those hospital screening programs have been ongoing for months now. So I don’t think that that’s a reason for the [increased] number of cases.”

Other COVID-19 news to know:

• Citigroup Inc. is moving forward with its COVID-19 vaccine mandate. According to a report in Bloomberg News, Citi employees must be vaccinated by Jan. 14 or will be placed on unpaid leave, with their last day of work set for Jan. 31.

• The American public is losing faith in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as we round the corner into the third year of the pandemic. It has been criticized for a series of messaging missteps, according to Axios, including the change in isolation policy and its scattered recommendations about booster shots.

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• It’s still somewhat unclear how well rapid antigen tests can catch omicron. One expert told The Wall Street Journal that people who are vaccinated and boosted might not get a positive test until three or four days after infection, based on the “peak concentration of the virus.” Another expert said people may be infectious before they have enough virus to test positive.

• That said, some rapid tests are easier to use than others, according to the ECRI Institute, which formally evaluated seven tests. The test that’s the easiest to use? The On/Go.

Here’s what the numbers say

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The average number of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. is now 677,243 per day, according to a New York Times tracker. The daily average for hospitalizations stands at 130,006, up 80% from two weeks ago, and the daily average for COVID-19-related deaths is 1,559, up 16% from two weeks ago. New cases are rising across the U.S. but are highest in northeastern states, including New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

About 207.6 million people in the U.S., or 62.5% of the population, are fully vaccinated, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, while 75.3 million people have gotten a COVID-19 booster shot. That’s 36.3% of the population.

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