Five charts that show how different omicron is

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There is more coronavirus circulating in California right now than ever before, but as California enters the third year of the pandemic the COVID landscape might be more complicated than ever.

The case rate statewide just doubled in only six days from an already record high, challenging the public health policies and strategies adopted since vaccinations became widely available this summer.

Here are five charts that show what’s different about this winter’s COVID surge.

California passes 6 million case mark

California added 1 million new COVID cases in just 17 days during this surge, passing over 6 million cases with Tuesday’s data update. Previously the fastest the state added a million new cases was over 26 days during last winter’s surge.

Record case rates

Case rates have exploded beyond previous record highs around the country and in California. The 7-day average of new cases being reported to the California Department of Public Health shot over 100,000 for the first time ever, according to data updated Monday.

The 7-day average of newly reported cases dropped for the first time since the surge started with Tuesday’s update, which could be a good sign that case rates have peaked, but holiday reporting anomalies might be to blame.

Positivity rates hint we may have reached a peak

Positivity rate is one of the first metrics that shows an increase when coronavirus starts to surge, and it’s also one of the first that indicates the peak has been reached and the number of new infections is starting to go down.

The rate — which represents the percent of COVID tests that come back positive — is a good indicator of what level COVID is spreading at any one time, and is less dependent on how much testing is being done, and less affected by recent days’ incomplete reporting. For nearly a week the positivity rate has remained relatively stable around 22%, after increasing tenfold from 2% in just 3 weeks.

Previous waves took weeks to peak, but data from places that saw earlier omicron outbreaks suggest an omicron-fueled surge may peak and start falling more quickly.

Hospitalizations and deaths “de-coupling” from cases

We’re seeing a sharp increase in hospitalized COVID patients — as of Jan. 10 there were 12,347 COVID patients in California hospitals, which is just over half of the number of hospitalized COVID patients during the peak of last winter’s surge.

But different from earlier surges, we’re seeing a “de-coupling” of trend lines for hospitalizations and cases, because vaccinations are widespread and omicron is generally causing less severe illness than previous variants.

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