The fast-moving variant of the omicron may cause less serious illness on average, but COVID-19 deaths in the US are escalating and designers predict an additional 50,000 to 300,000 Americans will die by the time the wave subsides in mid-March.
The seven-day rolling average of new daily deaths from COVID-19 in the US has been on the rise since mid-November, reaching nearly 1,700 on January 17 — still below the peak of 3,300 in January 2021. COVID-19 deaths among Nursing homes The population started to increase slightly two weeks ago, although it is still 10 times lower than last year before most of the population was vaccinated.
Despite signs that Omicron is causing milder disease on average, the unprecedented level of infection spreading across the country, with cases still rising in many states, means that many vulnerable people will become seriously ill. If the higher end of the forecast comes true, it would bring the total US deaths from COVID-19 to more than one million by early spring.
“A lot of people are still dying because of how the omicron is transmitted,” said University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi. “Unfortunately things will get worse before they get better.”
Sanmi Areola, M.D., director of health, said morg space is starting to run out in Johnson County, Kansas. More than 30 people have died in the province this year, the vast majority of whom have not been vaccinated.
But the idea that a less dangerous alternative could kill thousands of people has been difficult for health experts to convey. It’s hard to imagine – that a small percentage of a very large number of infections can lead to a very large number of deaths –
said Catriona Shea of Pennsylvania State University, who co-leads a team that brings several epidemiological models together. He shares the pooled forecasts with the White House.
Shea said the wave of deaths destined for the United States would peak in late January or early February. In early February, weekly deaths may equal or exceed the delta peak, and may exceed the previous peak in the United States in deaths last year.
An unknown portion of these deaths are among people with the delta variant, but experts say Omicron is claiming lives, too.
“This is being driven by Omicron,” Shea said of the upcoming wave of deaths. Aggregated models indicate that 1.5 million Americans will be hospitalized and 191,000 will die from mid-December through mid-March. Taking into account model uncertainty, US deaths during an omicron wave could range from 58,000 to 305,000.
However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the omicron risks are lower than in previous variants. New evidence from about 70,000 patients in Southern California suggests that omicron causes milder disease than delta disease.
A study, published online and cited during a recent White House briefing, found that Omicron patients had a 53% lower risk of hospitalization with respiratory symptoms, a 74% lower risk of ICU admission, and a 91% lower risk of death. The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, came from researchers at Kaiser Permanente and the University of California, Berkeley.
“It’s hard for me to say right away that it’s good news,” said Sara Y Tartoff, a research scientist at Kaiser Bermandy. “Maybe there is good news in the sense that if you get infected you have less chance of getting severely ill, but from a societal perspective it is a heavy burden on us. The situation is still dangerous, and we need to maintain the practices and behaviors that we know protect us.”
Overburdened hospitals can also contribute to more deaths, said Marc Lipsitch of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and scientific director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“In places where there are too few staff and too many patients, medical professionals tell us, the quality of care starts to suffer,” Lipsitch said. “It could also lead to higher death rates, but that’s not in any of the models that I know of.”
Associated Press contributing writer Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas.
The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Division of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.