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Epidemiologist warns U.S. in 'category five hurricane status' in COVID-19 pandemic

Volunteers take dinner orders to customers in their cars amid the COVID-19 pandemic on Good Friday, at St. Mary Magdalen School in Brentwood, Missouri. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
Volunteers take dinner orders to customers in their cars amid the COVID-19 pandemic on Good Friday, at St. Mary Magdalen School in Brentwood, Missouri. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

April 4 (UPI) -- Infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm said Sunday that the United States is in "category five hurricane status" with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, citing the threat of variants of the virus.

Osterholm, told NBC News' Meet the Press that the United States is approaching another surge of COVID-19 cases, citing a pattern where cases rise rapidly in the Upper Midwest and Northeast then subside and surge in the Southern Sunbelt states, before subsiding and then reemerging in the Northeast and Midwest.

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"At this time, we really are in a category five hurricane status with regard to the rest of the world," Osterholm said. "At this point, we will see in the next two weeks the highest number of cases reported globally since the end of the pandemic. In terms of the United States, we're just at the beginning of this surge. We haven't even really begun to see it yet."

He cited Michigan reporting 8,413 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the highest daily count since 9,350 on Dec. 7, as a "wakeup call."

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"We're now seeing increasing numbers of severe illnesses: ICU, hospitalization in individuals who are between 30 and 50 years of age who have not been vaccinated," he said.

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The United States reported 62,154 new cases and 676 deaths from Saturday, and a total of 30,695,502 infections and 554,945 fatalities since the start of the pandemic, leading the world in both totals, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University.

Further, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that as of April 1 there are 12,505 cases of COVID-19 caused by the B.1.1.7 variant first discovered in Britain in 51 states and territories, 323 cases of the B.1.351 variant first reported in South Africa in 31 jurisdictions, while 224 cases of the Brazilian P.1 variant have been found in 22 states and territories.

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Osterholm also warned that the B.117 variant has shown to cause more infections in children and said that other mutations such as the so-called "Eek" variant that has emerged in Japan could continue to emerge unless global vaccine distribution improves.

"Right now, if you look at the vaccine distribution around the world, 10 countries have received about 80% of the vaccine. Thirty countries have not seen even a drop of it," he said. "If we continue to see this virus spread throughout the low and middle-income countries unfettered, they're going to spit out variants over the course of the next years that, in each and every instance, could challenge our vaccines."

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The United States has administered 165,053,746 vaccine doses with 32% of the total population having received at least one dose and 18.5% fully vaccinated as of Sunday, according to the CDC.

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California leads the nation with 3,580,351 COVID-19 cases, reporting 2,400 new infections on Sunday, and 58,513 deaths including 109 new fatalities. The state has administered 19,717,651 vaccine doses and 7,260,337 people have been fully vaccinated.

Second-place Texas reported 1,465 new cases and 21 fatalities to bring its total infections to 2,403,393 and its death toll to 47,746. Texas has administered 12,276,067 COVID-19 vaccine doses with 4,561,335 people fully vaccinated.

Florida ranks third in the nation with 2,081,826 total cases and 33,674 resident deaths after reporting 4,794 new cases and 22 resident fatalities on Sunday. A total of 9,546,777 vaccine doses have been administered in the state and 3,597,072 people have been fully vaccinated.

New York reported 7,467 new cases Sunday for a total of 1,890,420 infections -- fourth-most in the nation -- while adding 59 deaths to bring its toll to 50,551. New York has administered 10,362,737 vaccine doses and 4,071,799 people have been fully vaccinated.

Illinois has the nation's fifth-highest case total at 1,256,634 infections along with 21,373 deaths since the start of the pandemic including 2,449 new cases and 14 deaths reported Sunday. The state has administered 6,290,822 vaccine doses and 2,368,041 people have ben fully vaccinated.

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