By KATHLEEN FOODY
CHICAGO (AP) — More than a year after the vaccine was rolled out, new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. have soared to their highest level on record at over 265,000 per day on average. The surge has been driven largely by the highly contagious omicron variant. The previous mark was 250,000 cases per day, set in mid-January. The number of Americans now in the hospital with COVID-19 is running at around 60,000, or about half the figure seen last January. With New Year’s Eve approaching, Dr. Anthony Fauci says there is no need to cancel small home gatherings among vaccinated and boosted family and friends. But he is strongly recommending against 40- and 50-person parties with lots of hugging and kissing.