211222 US covid
People wait in line for a free COVID-19 test in Los Angeles, California on December 21, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

The US is reporting record Covid-19 infections, but the true tally may be significantly higher.

Average daily cases reached about 405,000 in the past week, about 60% higher than the previous U.S. peak in January 2021, according to Johns Hopkins University data. But the numbers of tests reported by states are still running below their 2021 highs.

Meanwhile, the rate of positives among the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests is at 17%, the highest since April 2020. In New York City, one in three tests are coming back positive, according to data as of Dec. 31.

Together, the data suggest omicron has become so prevalent that many infections are going undetected, perhaps because the person used an at-home rapid test or none at all.

Even as the variant finds more and more people, hospitalizations and deaths remain below previous peaks, reinforcing a growing body of data showing omicron is less severe than delta. The U.S. is reporting about 1,100 Covid deaths a day, according to a seven-day average that has changed little in the past month. And new hospital admissions of patients with Covid surged 40% in a week to an average of 12,000 for the Dec. 25-31 period, but remain below a peak of more than 16,000 a year earlier.

The worst jurisdictions by cases are the nation's capital, New York, Puerto Rico, New Jersey and Florida. Of that group, only Washington D.C. and New Jersey have more people in the hospital with confirmed Covid-19 than they did during last winter's surge.

In New York, hospitalizations are approaching the year-ago level of 9,000, but are still half of where they were at their peak in April 2020. New Jersey has more than 4,700 patients, compared with about 3,600 a year earlier. State health department officials said emergency departments are experiencing high volumes of people seeking non-emergency Covid testing.