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The US saw a record-high increase in the number of daily COVID-19 cases as the heavily mutated omicron variant spread at a dizzying pace. President Biden called the current wave "a pandemic of the unvaccinated."
The United States reported more than 1 million new COVID-19 cases on Monday setting a global record, according to data from John Hopkins University.
The country saw a daily rise of 1,080,211 in infections after the long New Year's weekend.
While the number of infections tends to be higher on Mondays due to delays in weekend tallying, the latest figure is nearly double that of the previous Monday.
The previous daily high was registered at 590,576 on December 30.
Government modeling has found that the omicron variant — the most transmissible strain yet — accounts for about 59% of all active cases in the US in the week ending December 25.
During the current omicron-driven wave, the rolling average over seven days — which experts see as more reliable — was 486,000 cases per day as of Monday evening, the university said.
US President Joe Biden urged unvaccinated Americans to get vaccinated and the rest to get booster shots, saying cases were rising even at the White House.
"Unvaccinated are taking up hospital beds and crowded emergency rooms and intensive care units," the president said at the White House as he met with his COVID-19 response team Tuesday.
"So, please, please, please get vaccinated now," Biden said.
"You can still get COVID, but it's highly unlikely, very unlikely, that you'll become seriously ill," he said of vaccinated people.
"There's no excuse, there's no excuse for anyone being unvaccinated," Biden added. "This continues to be a pandemic of the unvaccinated."
The country's top pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci called the spike in infections an "almost a vertical increase," and warned that the peak may be only weeks away.
While early data suggests omicron is less severe than previous coronavirus variants, Fauci warned hospitalizations could surge because of how quickly it spreads.
Authorities hope to avoid mass disruption while at the same time protecting public health.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cut the recommended COVID-19 isolation period from 10 days to five.
"We want to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society functioning while following the science," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
Epidemiologist Marcel Salathe told DW that the "extremely transmissible" omicron variant could actually help move COVID into the "endemic phase."
However, he warned that it was a double-edged sword.
"The problem, of course, is if you have such high case numbers, even if you have lower proportionally lower hospitalization rates, you still have a tremendous burden on the hospitals. In addition, if everyone is out sick at around the same time, even if it's a mild disease, that puts a lot of burden, of course, on the general infrastructure, not just the health systems."
adi/rt (AFP, Reuters, dpa)