U.S. Reports All-Time Daily High of 265,000 COVID Cases, but Hospitalizations Down

The United States reported a record-breaking new average of 265,000 COVID-19 cases per day, though hospitalizations have gone down by about half since the beginning of the year.

Data from Johns Hopkins University shows the previous record was a rate of 250,000 cases per day in mid-January.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported about 60,000 Americans who are currently hospitalized with the virus, which is down by approximately 50 percent since January.

Health experts think this difference could be due to more widely available vaccines preventing serious infection, as CDC data already shows that even if vaccines do not always stop COVID-19 infection, vaccinated people are less likely to need hospitalization than their unvaccinated counterparts.

Some also believe the decline in hospitalizations could show the Omicron variant is less severe than past strains. Others believe that both factors played a role.

Bob Bednarczyk, a professor of global health and epidemiology at Emory University, said health experts are keeping a close eye on hospitalization rates as a way of examining how effective the vaccines are.

"If we're able to weather this surge with hopefully minimal disruptions to the overall health care system, that is a place where vaccines are really showing their worth," Bednarczyk said.

Augusta, Maine, COVID-19, vaccine
More than a year after the COVID-19 vaccine was rolled out, new cases in the U.S. have soared to the highest level on record at over 265,000 per day on average. Above, Pam Hetherly fills a syringe with COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic at the Augusta Armory, Dec. 21 in Augusta, Maine. Robert F. Bukaty, File/AP Photo

The fast-spreading mutant version of the virus has cast a pall over Christmas and New Year's, forcing communities to scale back or call off their festivities just weeks after it seemed as if Americans were about to enjoy an almost normal holiday season. Thousands of flights have been canceled amid staffing shortages blamed on the virus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious-disease expert, said Wednesday that there is no need to cancel small home gatherings among vaccinated and boosted family and friends.

But "if your plans are to go to a 40- to 50-person New Year's Eve party with all the bells and whistles and everybody hugging and kissing and wishing each other a happy new year, I would strongly recommend that this year we not do that," Fauci said.

The number of Americans now in the hospital with COVID-19 is running at around 60,000, though hospitalizations sometimes lag behind case numbers.

COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have climbed over the past two weeks from an average of 1,200 per day to around 1,500.

Several European countries, including France, Greece, Britain and Spain, also reported record case counts this week, prompting a ban on music at New Year's celebrations in Greece and a renewed push to encourage vaccination by French authorities.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Miami, Florida, COVID-19 test
Though the U.S. recently reported an all-time high in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations are down by about half since the beginning of the year. Above, people are tested for COVID-19 at a walk-up testing site run by Nomi Health, Tuesday, Dec. 28, in downtown Miami. Rebecca Blackwell, File/AP Photo