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With the Omicron variant now accounting for almost 100% of COVID-19 cases in the United States, the seven-day average of daily COVID-related deaths hit 2,600 recently, the highest rate in about a year, The Washington Post reported.
That's higher than the approximately 2,000 daily deaths last autumn during the Delta surge, but less than the 3,000 daily deaths last January, when COVID vaccines were not widely available, The Post data analysis said.
The Omicron variant generally causes less severe disease than other strains of COVID, but because it is so transmissible, Omicron is infecting higher raw numbers of people that previous strains.
"Even if on a per-case basis fewer people develop severe illness and die, when you apply a small percentage to a very large number, you get a substantial number," Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The Post.
The unvaccinated, people over 75, and people with underlying medical conditions are the groups most endangered by Omicron, The Post said. About half of the deaths in January 2022 were among people over 75, compared to about a third in September during the Delta surge.
The age trend is seen in Florida, said Jason Salemi, an epidemiologist at the University of South Florida College of Public Health. He told The Post that seniors accounted for about 85% of deaths last winter, about 60% during the Delta surge, and about 80% now during the Omicron surge.
The uptick in senior deaths may have occurred because seniors who got vaccinated in early 2021 didn't get boosted ahead of the Omicron surge, he said.
"Omicron may be less severe for younger people, but it will still find vulnerable seniors in our community," Salemi said. "That vaccination back in February isn't as effective now if you aren't boosted."
CDC data show that 95% of people in the United States over 65 have gotten at least one dose of vaccine, 88.5% are fully vaccinated, but only 62.5% have gotten a booster dose.
The COVID death rate is highest in the Midwest. During the last two months, Chicago reported more than 1,000 COVID deaths, almost as much as the December 2020 peak, The Post said. Minorities have been hit hard. About third of the city's population is Black but about half the COVID victims are Black, The Post said.
"It's been challenging because it goes up against the national narrative that omicron is nothing dangerous," said Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.
In a Wednesday news briefing at The White House, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, provided slightly different statistics on COVID-related deaths. She said that the seven-day average of daily deaths was about 2,400, up 3% from the previous week.
The seven-day daily average of cases is about 247,300 cases per day, down 44% from the previous week, she said. Hospital admissions are about 13,000 daily, down 25% from the previous week.
Walensky said the Omicron variant now accounts for almost 100% of COVID viruses circulating in the United States.
The Washington Post: "Covid deaths highest in a year as omicron targets the unvaccinated and elderly"
CDC: "COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States"
The White House: "Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials"