• The U.S. reported 488,000 new COVID-19 infections Wednesday
  • Case counts in several states have more than doubled over the past weeks
  • Experts believe the numbers are undercounted

U.S. health experts are urging Americans to prepare for severe disruptions over the next few weeks as a surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the heavily mutated Omicron variant hits hospital systems across the nation.

The U.S. reported 488,000 new COVID-19 infections Wednesday, with the seven-day rolling average of cases soaring to more than 265,000 per day, according to a New York Times database.

However, experts believe the numbers are undercounted, noting that many Americans are taking COVID-19 tests at home. Some people infected with the novel coronavirus may also go undiagnosed, especially if they are asymptomatic.

"It's unlike anything we've ever seen, even at the peak of the prior surges of Covid," Dr. James Phillips, chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University Hospital, told CNN. "What we're experiencing right now is an absolute overwhelming of the emergency departments."

Case counts across the country are breaking records. In New Mexico and Arizona, federal medical personnel have been deployed to help boost local health services.

In Georgia, at least 200 National Guard troops have been called to help at staff testing sites and hospitals. COVID-19 hospitalizations in six major health systems in the state have more than doubled, with most patients unvaccinated against COVID-19.

In Louisiana, hospitalizations with COVID-19 tripled over the past two weeks. Many unvaccinated patients who came in already required intubation or high-flow oxygen. People with COVID-19 who were vaccinated or partially vaccinated also suffered from a flu-like illness, Dr. Catherine O’Neal, Baton Rouge's Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center Chief Medical Officer, told the publication.

"We're seeing an increase in admissions that is startling," she added.

COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are likely to continue increasing until they hit the peak by the end of January, as predicted by White House chief medical advisor and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci.

As of Thursday, the U.S. recorded a total of 54,285,594 COVID-19 cases and 824,276 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. The number of cases increased by 625,906 over the past 24 hours, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

A surge fuelled by the Omicron virus variant is threatening to overwhelm hospitals in France
A surge fuelled by the Omicron virus variant is threatening to overwhelm hospitals in France AFP / GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT