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COVID cases rising with Christmas — and Omicron — around the corner

Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths are climbing across the U.S., ahead of a busy holiday week that will likely help the virus spread even more.

By the numbers: The U.S. is now averaging about 122,000 new cases per day — a slight increase over the past week, but a 41% spike over the past two weeks.

  • Roughly 1,300 Americans are dying from COVID infections per day, on average.
  • The CDC’s most recent update, released last week, showed a 15% jump in hospitalizations.

Where it stands: Wisconsin has the country’s biggest COVID outbreak right now, relative to its population, with an average of roughly 100 cases per 100,000 people.

  • Michigan has more COVID deaths per 100,000 people than any other state, followed by Montana, Arizona, Kentucky and Wisconsin.
  • Wisconsin saw the biggest increase in average COVID deaths over the past two weeks.

Meanwhile, the vaccination rate in the U.S. is barely moving. Nearly 40% of Americans aren't fully vaccinated, and the number who are fully vaccinated increased by less than 2 percentage points so far this month, according to CDC data.

  • About 27% of fully vaccinated Americans, including 52% of fully vaccinated seniors, have gotten a booster dose, per the CDC.

All available evidence shows that the vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious illness or death from the Delta variant of COVID-19, which remains the dominant strain in the U.S.

  • The Omicron variant, which is likely to become the dominant strain soon, appears to spread even more easily than Delta.
  • Early evidence suggests that vaccinated people will need a booster to achieve maximum protection against Omicron.

What we’re watching: Travel and indoor gatherings for Christmas will likely push COVID cases higher, and that trend will accelerate even further if and when Omicron gains a bigger foothold in the U.S.

  • That will almost certainly translate into at least some increase in both hospitalizations and deaths, with unvaccinated Americans at the greatest risk for both.
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