US Coronavirus: 2021 ends with record new Covid-19 cases and likelihood of an even higher increase after the holidays

The average daily number of Covid-19 cases reached 265,427 on Tuesday – a new pandemic record, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The previous record of 251,989 was set on January 11.

It comes as Covid-19 pediatric hospitalizations increase and millions of children prepare to return to school next week. Pediatrician Dr Peter Hotez said he believes some schools in areas of very high transmission should delay a return to in-person learning.

“I wouldn’t do it now,” Hotez said Tuesday night. “You have a screaming level of transmission in the Northeast, New York and Washington, DC. Trying to open schools at this point, it’s hard to imagine how well things will go.”

But the U.S. Department of Education is urging school districts to take safety measures to ensure classrooms remain open for in-person learning during the second half of the school year, according to a new guide from resources addressed to school principals and obtained Monday by CNN.

“It is extremely important that all schools strive to remain open to in-person learning five days a week, especially in light of the Omicron variant,” the guide said.

Despite a recent attack of Covid-19 cases in New York City, the country’s largest public school system will reopen as scheduled next Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Public schools in the city will give a week of home testing to students who test positive so they can monitor their condition and return as soon as it is safe, he said on Tuesday.

Child hospitalizations approaching pandemic peak

Across the country, an average of 305 children were battling Covid-19 in a hospital on any given day during the week ending Sunday, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Department of Health and of Social Services.

That’s an increase of more than 48% from the previous week and 10.7% lower than the maximum average of 342 children admitted to hospitals with the virus in late August and early September.

While anyone aged 5 and over in the United States is eligible to be vaccinated, approximately 40% of the total population is not fully vaccinated, which puts them at higher risk for more serious Covid-19 outcomes, including serious illness and death.
Hospitalizations of children are increasing in this Chicago hospital.  Only one of the young patients has been fully vaccinated, doctor says

The number of children requiring medical attention at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC, has nearly doubled, said Dr Roberta DeBiasi, division chief of infectious diseases at the hospital.

The hospital admitted around 20 children at its peak, but that number rose to between 40 and 50 during the Omicron push, DeBiasi said. Most patients are not vaccinated, partially vaccinated or immunocompromised, she said.

“So that’s really the big difference, and it’s not because the virus is more severe. It’s because the overall infectivity and the number of cases have really increased,” DeBiasi said.

Even so, hospital staff managed to keep the death rate low, she said. “Even our children who are extremely sick, seriously ill, we have become very good at caring for these children.”

In New York City, pediatric hospitalizations quintupled over a three-week period.

A nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit at the University of Vermont Medical Center is caring for a Covid-19 pediatric patient.
And at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, Covid-19 cases are about three times higher than the hospital’s previous peak in December 2020. Over the past week, hospitalizations were four times higher than what the hospital usually sees.

Overall, experts warn the coming weeks will be difficult for the country.

“There is no doubt that January will be filled with many short-term challenges – hospital beds, staff shortages, tests, shortage of almost everything,” said Andy Slavitt, former senior advisor to the Covid response team -19 of the Biden administration.

“It’s hard for the system to handle so many cases at once.”

Home test kits are less sensitive to Omicron, says FDA

Millions of Americans have turned to home Covid-19 testing as a precaution before traveling or gathering for the holidays. Health experts urged people to get tested before meeting, especially indoors.

Finding a Covid-19 test is a struggle right now in the US as Omicron and vacation plans collide

But rapid antigenic tests might be less able to detect the Omicron variant, the United States Food and Drug Administration said on Tuesday.

Studies of antigen tests using samples from patients who carry the live virus have shown that if the tests detect the Omicron variant, they do so with less sensitivity, the FDA said. Sensitivity measures how often a test can give a positive result when a person has the disease.

More studies on the tests are ongoing and people should continue to use them, the FDA said.

“Testing is always worth it. Don’t let anyone think the FDA said testing is no longer good,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “They say they’re less sensitive now. They’ve never been 100% sensitive.”

CNN’s Jen Christensen, Virginia Langmaid, Liz Stark Taylor Romine, and Adrienne Winston contributed to this report.

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