The new year has arrived and brought with it the wave of viruses caused by Omicron.
More than 3.5 million people worldwide have died from the coronavirus in 2021, almost twice as many as in 2020. The Delta variant has wreaked havoc around the world, and now the Omicron variant, which has already become dominant in the United States, fueling a spike in cases.
Omicron has spread to more than 100 countries after being first identified in Botswana and South Africa in late November, infecting people previously vaccinated as well as those who have already been infected. But South African officials say their country has now reached the peak of its Omicron wave and new cases are on the decline, all without a major increase in deaths – offering hope that, while other countries may see weeks of similar intensity, they may also see declines and fewer deaths than in previous waves.
For the United States, the coming weeks promise to be difficult. “We will have a difficult January as cases will continue to rise and peak and then drop rapidly,” said Ali Mokdad, a University of Washington epidemiologist and former scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While cases of the virus will always overwhelm hospitals, he said, he expects the proportion of cases leading to hospitalization to be lower than in previous waves. Animal studies suggest that Omicron does not invade the lungs as easily, which may help explain its generally less severity.
New estimates from researchers at Columbia University suggest the United States could peak by January 9 at around 2.5 million cases per week, although the number could reach 5.4 million. In New York City, the first American metropolis to experience a large increase, researchers estimated cases would peak by the first week of the new year.
” It’s shocking. It’s disturbing, ”said Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist who led Columbia’s modeling work. “We are seeing an unprecedented number of Covid-19 cases. “
At the same time, Dr Shaman said, it is possible that as cases fall in areas currently experiencing major Omicron surges, other areas currently less affected will see their own Omicron surges, leading to a more rounded case curve nationwide. The hottest spots in the country are now mainly clustered in the eastern half of the country.
The United States set a single-day record with 489,000 cases on Wednesday, then broke the record again on Thursday with 582,000 cases, according to a New York Times database.
The number of new cases fell from those record numbers on Friday, when many states did not report data on New Years Eve. But the tally was still unusually high, with 443,000 new cases in just 28 states.
Even the staggering numbers of the past few days are underestimated, as the holiday season causes major distortions in testing and reporting. The increasing use of home testing makes accounting even more questionable.
Genome sequencing shows that Omicron is growing exponentially because some of its dozens of mutations appear to speed up transmission. But new studies, including one that surveyed one million coronavirus patients in England, support research that shows two doses of vaccine offer significant protection against serious illness, even though Omicron has always been better at avoiding vaccines. .
Doctors are urging anyone who is unvaccinated to receive their first dose of the vaccine as soon as possible, and anyone who has been vaccinated to be given a booster.
“We are all tired and ready for this to end,” said Dr Brian Garibaldi, clinical manager at the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. “But we still have a lot of work to do and a long way to go. “
Sarah cahalan contributed reports.