Covid-19 Cases Are Rising (Again) — Here’s How to Stay Safe During the Holidays

Santa Claus wearing a mask in the snow, giving a peace sign

…and the new strain is to blame.

With the holidays fast approaching, Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations are surging at an alarming rate across the U.S. We’ll tell you everything you need to know.

First up, my conversation with Dr. Jeremy Faust, who shared his expert take about the Omicron variant:

What are the current stats?

The U.S. is currently averaging more than 118,000 new cases per day, up 85% from late October, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. This comes amid a somber milestone: the U.S. has already surpassed 800,000 deaths, which includes 1 in 100 Americans over the age of 65.

“I think we’re really just about to experience a viral blizzard,” Osterholm told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Thursday. “I think in the next three to eight weeks, we’re going to see millions of Americans are going to be infected with this virus, and that will be overlaid on top of Delta, and we’re not yet sure exactly how that’s going to work out.”

What’s driving this uptick?

The ongoing Delta variant and a new wave of new Omicron cases are to blame. Omicron cases are rapidly rising and now account for nearly 3% of all infections, prompting Dr. Anthony Fauci to predict that it’ll become the dominant strain across the country “in a few weeks.”

What do we know about the Omicron variant?  

Researchers in Hong Kong found that the Omicron’s infection rate is 70 times faster than previous coronavirus strains, but it also appears to lead to less severe infections. This also depends on your risk: Dr. Fauci says he’s particularly concerned about the unvaccinated population. But he says those who are fully vaccinated should be “relatively well-protected” against hospitalizations, so don’t waste any time getting that third vaccine. 

How do you know if you have the Omicron variant? 

A tell-tale sign is having a scratchy throat (as opposed to a sore throat). Unlike previous strains, preliminary data shows that patients don’t appear to develop a cough, or experience a loss of taste or smell. 

How are hospitals faring?

Hospitals were already struggling before the Thanksgiving holiday, and some health officials worry that gatherings over Christmas and the New Year could make that worse. Even before Omicron, the Delta variant was already causing around 120,000 cases and about 1,000 deaths per day.

This potentially deadly confluence of the Delta and Omicron variants has Dr. Fauci warning that hospitals could soon become “overwhelmed,” but Dr. Phillip Kadaj tells us that’s already the case in Michigan, where he’s based. He says there’s been such a huge uptick that patients are no longer being transferred between hospitals. 

“[The spike is] pretty significant right now, but 97% of cases are still Delta,” says Dr. Kadaj. “So I don’t think that the new variant has had an appreciable impact on [the spike] yet.