Federal officials predict Omicron infections could peak in 'massive wave' as soon as January

People lined up for their booster shot.
(Image credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Federal health officials warned in a briefing on Tuesday that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading quickly in the U.S. and "could peak in a massive wave of infections as soon as January," The Washington Post reports, citing new modeling from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The variant's prevalence jumped "sevenfold in a single week," the Post reports, a pace that, if sustained, could impose newfound pressure on a health system already strained by the Delta variant. Pharmaceutical companies aren't in favor of creating an Omicron-specific vaccine, and believe that individuals with both vaccine doses and a booster shot are still well protected against severe illness and death, even with the new strain.

The CDC's Tuesday briefing outlined two scenarios for how Omicron might spread throughout the U.S. The first (and worse) scenario has been described as a "triple whammy" where Omicron infections layer on top of Delta and influenza infections. The second scenario posits a smaller Omicron surge in the spring. It's not yet clear which is more likely, though the CDC reportedly told public health officials who participated in the briefing that they have "got to get people ready for this."

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"They're considering the information at the highest levels right now, and thinking through how to get the public to understand what the scenarios mean," said one federal health official with knowledge of the briefing. "It looks daunting."

The official added, "The implications of a big wave in January that could swamp hospitals . . . we need to take that potential seriously."

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