People wait in line to be tested for COVID-19 in Times Square in New York City on Monday as New York continues to set records for positive COVID cases and holiday travel ramps up. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 20 (UPI) -- New data showed Monday the United States is averaging more than 130,000 new COVID-19 cases per day, a 10% increase in just one week, as officials prepared for a surge triggered by the Omicron variant.
The country recorded 913,491 new cases during the week ending Sunday, or 130,500 cases per day, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University. That's 10% higher than the previous week's average of 119,000 cases and equals a level last seen during last summer's surge of the Delta variant.
Overall, United States has recorded about 51 million confirmed cases and more than 807,000 associated deaths since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, Johns Hopkins reported.
Nearly 77% of the country's intensive care beds already were in use as of Monday, with 9% of them -- more than 68,000 beds -- occupied by COVID-19 patients, according to a tally kept by the Department of Health and Human Services.
The latest pandemic wave is coming as the highly transmissible Omicron variant has been detected in 46 states, with only Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Oklahoma yet to report a case, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned Sunday that Omicron is "going to take over" due to its "remarkable" transmissibility.
"We are going to see a significant stress in some regions of the country on the hospital system, particularly in those areas where you have a low level of vaccination," he said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio predicted Monday that a sizable surge in cases is ahead for the nation's biggest city, which during the last week has seen its daily case counts more than double.
"It's going to be a very challenging few weeks," he said in a daily update, but added that an analysis by the city's healthcare leaders has indicated it would only be "a matter of weeks" before the situation subsides.
"We're going to see a really fast upsurge in cases, we're going to see a lot of New Yorkers affected by Omicron," he said. "So far, thank God based on everything we've seen, the cases are more mild than what we've experienced previously."
De Blasio is expected to decide this week if the city will implement further limits on the iconic New Year's Eve celebration that drew between 1 million and 2 million people to Times Square before the pandemic.
Other warnings and actions came from federal, state and local leaders at the start of the Christmas holiday week.
White House press secretary Jen Pskai told reporters that President Joe Biden's planned Tuesday address regarding the Omicron variant won't be used to announce new restrictions or COVID-related shutdowns, but rather to tout "the benefits of being vaccinated, the steps we're going to take to increase access and to increase testing and the risks posed to unvaccinated individuals."
The president, she said, would "issue a stark warning and make clear unvaccinated individuals will continue to drive hospitalizations and deaths."
In Boston, new Mayor Michelle Wu announced that indoor spaces, including restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues, will require proof of COVID-19 vaccines beginning Jan. 15.
"Vaccines are the most powerful tool we have to fight this pandemic," she said. "Vaccination saves lives, and closing vaccination gaps is the best way to support and protect our communities, businesses, and cultural institutions during this pandemic."
In North Carolina, state health officials urged residents to get a COVID-19 booster as they prepared for the potential surge in the new year.
Dr. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina secretary of Health and Human Services, told reporters that most of the state's major hospitals already have detected Omicron cases, and that the strain will displace the Delta variant as the dominant variety early next month.
Cohen said Omicron could produce "substantially more than even the highest number of cases that we've seen in the Delta surge. I don't want to give specifics here, but I think we could see as many as 10,000 cases a day at the peak. It's that infectious."
Booster shots, she said, "are critical. Do not wait."
Former President Donald Trump revealed Sunday he received a COVID-19 booster even as many fellow Republican politicians, including GOP governors such Ron DeSantis in Florida, have made resistance to vaccine and mask mandates a central part of their pitches to voters.
Meanwhile, CNBC personality Jim Cramer on Monday was among the latest celebrities to announce they have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Cramer, host of the network's popular "Mad Money" show, revealed in a tweet that he has been triple vaccinated, which he said has prevented him from becoming "far more sick."