The United States has been mobilized on federal, corporate and research fronts this week to deal with the highly contagious Omicron variant, as the country set its latest COVID-19 record with nearly 1.5 million new cases reported nationwide on Monday.
In the week ending on Tuesday, the country reported 5.23 million cases, down from 5.28 million cases in the seven-day period ending on Monday. U.S. case counts were up 34 percent from a week ago, and on Tuesday 47 states reported higher case counts than a week earlier.
Meanwhile, 21 states set records for cases in a week; 48 states reported more COVID-19 patients in hospital beds; and 41 states reported more COVID-19 patients in intensive-care units, data from Johns Hopkins University and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed.
The Omicron variant will infect "just about everybody" regardless of vaccination status, top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said on Tuesday. But those who have been vaccinated will "very likely, with some exceptions, do reasonably well," and avoid hospitalization and death.
Fauci told a Senate hearing that the unvaccinated are 20 times likelier to die, 17 times likelier to be hospitalized and 10 times likelier to be infected than the vaccinated. "Those who are still unvaccinated are going to get the brunt of the severe aspect of this," he said.
A World Health Organization official on Tuesday predicted that the Omicron variant will have infected more than half of the population in the European region in the next six to eight weeks, if current trends hold. U.S. cases of COVID-19 infections have so far exceeded 62 million.
For the second year in a row, COVID-19 was the leading cause of death for law enforcement officers in the United States, according to a report released on Tuesday by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF).
A total of 458 officers died in the line of duty in the country last year, making it the deadliest year in more than 90 years and a 55 percent increase from 2020 -- 301 of them died because of coronavirus.
"It has been reported to NLEOMF that these officers have died due to direct exposure to the virus during the commission of their official duties," the report said, noting that the remaining deaths were attributed to heart attacks, strokes and 9/11-related illnesses.
Still, "there are encouraging signs," reported USA Today on Wednesday. Boston has been a hot spot, but Mark Siedner of Massachusetts General Hospital told CBS that there are early signs the city has "turned a corner."
One of those signs is a wastewater tracking system -- virus particles found in wastewater are no longer infectious but can still be measured and can reflect trends among people contributing to the wastewater.
"The wastewater data are in, and the news is good," tweeted Bill Hanage, associate professor at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. The data is "providing solid evidence, that importantly can't be put down to exhausted testing capacity or other factors."
The latest COVID-19 wave has left millions of Americans scrambling for tests. Without an adequate federal system for developing and distributing rapid tests, some of the country's largest companies have put their own testing services in place, reported The New York Times on Wednesday.
Google will send full-time employees in the United States free at-home tests that deliver results within minutes and retail for more than 70 U.S. dollars each. Investment firm BlackRock offers tele-health supervision as employees self-administer rapid tests for international travel.
"Some companies are using the tests to call their staff back to the office. For others, at-home COVID-19 testing has become the newest wellness benefit, a perk to keep employees healthy and working -- even from their couches -- while providing peace of mind," said the report.
On Wednesday, the White House said that it would distribute millions of free coronavirus tests to schools across the United States to try to keep classrooms open. Five million rapid antigen tests will be made available to K-12 schools across the country each month.
"Today the Biden-Harris Administration is doubling down on our commitment to keeping all schools safely open for full-time in-person learning," said a press release, noting that states will have to apply for them before the first shipments are made as early as this month.
The White House also promised to make lab capacity available for 5 million free polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, facilitated through three federally-funded regional providers each month. The providers will offer testing materials, supplies, lab results and reporting at no direct cost to schools.