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US sees over 100m COVID-19 cases in holiday season

People wait outside a community center as long lines continue for individuals trying to be tested for COVID-19 during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in San Diego, California, US, Jan 10, 2022. (MIKE BLAKE / REUTERS)

LOS ANGELES / TUNIS / MONTEVIDEO – The United States has officially recorded more than 100 million COVID-19 cases amid another surge in the holiday season, according to the latest data released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The United States is the first country to have recorded 100 million COVID-19 cases around the world.

The country totaled 100,216,983 confirmed cases as of Dec 21, according to CDC data posted on Wednesday.

Experts said the actual number is much higher as people testing at home do not relay their results to public health departments, and many people do not do tests any more.

Tom Frieden, former CDC director under the Obama administration, estimates that the reported data reflects less than half of the actual total.

There are at least 200 million infections in the United States, "so this is a small portion of them," Frieden told CNBC. "The question really is will we be better prepared for COVID and other health threats going forward, and the jury is very much still out on that."

"It's really hard to stop this virus, and that's one of the reasons why we've shifted the focus to hospitalizations and deaths and not just counting cases," said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist and director of the Pandemic Center at the Brown University School of Public Health.

More than 1.08 million people in the United States have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, more than any other country in the world, according to CDC data.

The country is currently averaging about 65,000 cases, 5,000 hospitalizations and 390 deaths each day, CDC data showed.

In the midst of the holiday season, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the United States have increased in recent weeks.

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More than 44 percent of US counties are experiencing medium to high COVID-19 community transmission levels, according to the CDC.

"We're still in the middle of this – it is not over," said White House chief medical advisor Anthony Fauci, who is stepping down this month.

"Four hundred deaths per day is not an acceptable level. We want to get it much lower than that," Fauci said.

At the same time, this cold and flu season have added risks. The trio of COVID-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is continuing to stress the country's healthcare system, resulting in decreased hospital capacity and staffing shortages.

A child high fives Pharmacist Colleen Teevan after he received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for kids at Hartford Hospital, Hartford, Connecticut on Nov 2, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)

Public health experts said the United States could face even more respiratory infections in January.

It is "highly likely" that respiratory viruses could spread even more following holiday gatherings and New Year's Eve celebrations, said William Schaffner, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

"These are highly contagious viruses – and people have generally put COVID-19 and COVID vaccination behind them. They haven't been all that attentive to flu. They're not wearing masks," Schaffner told CNN.

Meanwhile, nearly 48,000 child COVID-19 cases were reported in the United States in the week ending Dec 22, the third consecutive weekly rise in child cases, according to the latest report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children's Hospital Association.

Almost 15.2 million children in the country have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic.

About 165,000 of these cases have been added in the past four weeks, and the reported cases are likely a "substantial undercount" of COVID-19 cases among children, according to the report.

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Tunisians wait for their turn to receive a COVID-19 veccine at an inoculation center in Ariana governorate near the capital Tunis on Aug 8, 2021. (FETHI BELAID / AFP)

Tunisia

A Tunisian health official warned that the North African country may witness a new wave of COVID-19 infections at the beginning of 2023, the Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP) reported Wednesday.

"Tunisians should … get to strengthen immunity and prevent the (COVID-19) transmission in anticipation of an increase in infections in January 2023," Riadh Daghfous, director general of the National Center of Pharmacovigilance, told TAP.

Daghfous, also the president of the COVID-19 Scientific Vaccination Monitoring Committee, highlighted the importance of vaccination.

"A vaccination campaign against the Omicron BA4 and BA5 strains, currently dominant in Tunisia, will start this week," he said, urging people with chronic diseases or immunodeficiency, the elderly, and those who received the last dose of vaccine more than six months ago to get vaccinated.

A total of 6,398,305 Tunisians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 since the start of the national vaccination campaign on March 13, 2021.

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A man gets a shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Santa Maria Eugenia neighborhood in the outskirts of Montevideo, Uruguay, July 19, 2021. (MATILDE CAMPODONICO / AP)

Uruguay

Uruguay's Public Health Ministry said on Wednesday that experts have detected the presence of two new Omicron subvariants in the country, amid a wave of new COVID-19 cases.

The Epidemiology Division of the Public Health Laboratory Department "has recently detected the low-frequency presence of two new Omicron subvariants: XBB.1 and DL.1," the ministry said in a statement.

The predominant variant globally continues to be Omicron and viruses change over time, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the statement.

The public should continue to practice prevention and get vaccinated, the ministry said.

Public Health Minister Daniel Salinas on Wednesday also confirmed via social media that to the already circulating subvariants in Uruguay, officials were adding XBB.1 and DL.1, which were all Omicron variants that "could be part of the current increase in cases."

On Monday, the health ministry said 8,216 new COVID-19 cases were registered in the country during the week of Dec 18 to 24, up 66 percent from the previous week. Last week also saw 10 deaths from the coronavirus in Uruguay.