Speed Reads

Omicron Falling?

Omicron may be close to peaking in the U.S., but there's lots of death to come, models predict

"The latest Omicron developments continue to be encouraging," David Leonhardt writes in Wednesday's New York Times. "New COVID-19 cases are plummeting in a growing list of places. The percentage of cases causing severe illness is much lower than it was with the Delta variant. And vaccines — particularly after a booster shot — remain extremely effective in preventing hospitalization and death."

Still, the math suggests a lot more hospitalizations and deaths before Omicron is spent.

A combination of various models shared with the White House expects that 1.5 million Americans will be hospitalized and 191,000 will die from mid-December through mid-March, The Associated Press reports. "Taking into account the uncertainty in the models, U.S. deaths during the omicron wave could range from 58,000 to 305,000."

Omicron cases are expected to peak by early February, but as with floods, the real question for Omicron isn't "where's the high-water mark" bur rather, "When will the water recede?" Johns Hopkins University's Gabe Kelen tells The Washington Post. "We're at such high numbers that even as we're coming down, we're still overwhelmed."

"A lot of people are still going to die because of how transmissible Omicron has been," University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi tells AP. "It unfortunately is going to get worse before it gets better."

Yes, "the COVID situation in the U.S. remains fairly grim, with overwhelmed hospitals and nearly 2,000 deaths a day," and "it's likely to remain grim into early February," Leonhardt concedes. "The available evidence suggests that Omicron is less threatening to a vaccinated person than a normal flu," but "small individual risks have added up to large societal damage." 

Still, "Omicron appears to be in retreat, even if the official national data doesn't yet reflect that reality," Leonhardt adds. Combine that with the variant's decreased severity and "the U.S. may be only a few weeks away from the most encouraging COVID situation since early last summer, before the Delta variant emerged."

The U.S. faces "a few more tough weeks," but at some point "the virus moves from the pandemic stage to endemic stage" and some degree of normality, Justin Lessler, an epidemiology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tells the Post. "It's possible, and I sincerely hope that after Omicron we're in that zone. That's completely plausible that that's where we'll be, but we can't be sure of that."