These numbers show just how impactful the latest COVID-19 surge is

A person gets tested for COVID outside.
People get tested for COVID-19 at a free testing site in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 21 as coronavirus cases surge in the city. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

COVID-19 cases are up across the country, fueled in large part by the highly contagious omicron variant.

Even with a surge in cases and a scramble for more testing, a smaller percentage of infected people are winding up in the hospital with COVID-19 symptoms compared to earlier strains.

Dr. Robert Wachter at the University of California, San Francisco, tells NPR’s Michaeleen Doucleff that the lower hospitalization rate is likely due to two things: greater immunity among the public from vaccines and prior coronavirus infection, and that omicron might be slightly less severe than delta.

Vaccines don’t stop infections with omicron, but they do reduce the risk of hospitalization by about 70% — with a booster shot, that figure is even higher.

However, Wachter cautions: “If you’re a person who has no immunity at all, no vaccination and no prior infection or your prior infection was a year and a half ago and it was mild, you’re not out of the woods.”

“There is a reasonable chance that you will get very sick with omicron,” he says.

Throughout the pandemic, NPR has been tracking COVID-19 cases and deaths as well as vaccination rates across the U.S. with data from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

See how your state stacks up in terms of cases: (find more data and details here).

A map shows, by color, which states have the worst COVID rates.

Here are the latest numbers on vaccination rates: (with more details here).

A version of this post first published in the Morning Edition live blog.

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