New COVID-19 infections in North and South America have reached their highest levels since the pandemic began, health officials said, as the highly contagious version of Omicron is now the predominant strain in the region.
During a weekly virtual news briefing Wednesday, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said more than eight million new cases of COVID-19 had been reported in North and South America last week, a 32 percent increase from the previous week. week.
About 18,000 deaths were also reported, an increase of 37 percent over the same period.
PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said the United States continues to have the highest number of new infections in the region, despite a recent decline in overall cases, while deaths rose 107 percent this week in Central America compared to last week.
In the southern states of Mexico, the number of new infections has tripled in the last week.
“As COVID cases spread more actively – and faster – than ever, it is clear that Omicron has become the predominant … strain in our region at the moment,” Etienne told a news conference.
The new data comes as health systems in North and South America experience tensions from the rapid rise in Omicron-related cases and hospitalizations. The surge in infections has again caused a shortage of staff and forced some hospitals to take care of the rations.
Etienne said Belize is currently reporting the highest levels of new infections in Central America, with infections rising in Honduras and Costa Rica. In South America, Paraguay and parts of Guyana, COVID-19 is doubling almost every two days, she added, with infections particularly high in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador.
Brazil, meanwhile, reported a total of 477,000 cases last week – a 193% increase over the previous week, while Haiti and Martinique – where vaccination levels are still low – continue to report significant cases.
Accurate data collection is crucial to fighting the spread of the disease, Etienne said.
“Now more than ever, we need data on how this virus affects different ages, genders, groups and geographies so that we can provide local communities and areas with the tools they need to manage risk and target their populations. during that time, “she said.
These data are also crucial to help countries identify gaps and direct resources to ensure that people most at risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19 are protected first.@DirOPSPAHO # COVID-19
– PAHO / WHO (@pahowho) January 26, 2022
In the United States, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said an average of 692,000 new cases a day were detected last week, down 6 percent from the previous week.
Hospitalizations averaged 19,800 a day, down 8 percent from a week ago, while deaths rose to an average of 2,200 a day, an increase of 21 percent.
CDC Director Rochelle Valensky said that despite the large number of cases, the hospitalization rate is lower than in previous pandemic waves, thanks to vaccines, immunity from previous infections, and the likelihood that Omicron is less severe than previous options. .
However, Valenski said there are more people in the country hospitalized than ever before, which puts a strain on health systems. The hospitalization rate is also high among unvaccinated adults, a persistent problem in the United States, where despite vaccines and boosters, tens of millions of Americans remain unvaccinated due to misinformation and political ideology.
“While it is encouraging that Omicron appears to be causing less severe disease, it is important to remember that we are still facing a high overall disease burden,” Valenski said during a regular briefing at the COVID-19 working group on Wednesday. .
“I know many people have been tried, but many of our hospitals are still struggling.