4 Signs Omicron Could Soon Peak in the US

Over the past six weeks, the hypertransmissive The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has generated its fair share of bad news in the United States.

Daily number of COVID-19 cases more than three times higher than before.

A record number of new hospitalizationspushing thousands of hospital systems at national scale breaking point.

And now, tragically, another 2,000 deaths from COVID-19, on average, every day.

At the current rate, America will likely surpass its summer peak of around 2,100 deaths per day later this week – and could hit its all-time high (around 3,300 deaths per day) by the end of the month.

In other words, while Omicron itself might be less likely to cause serious illnessparticularly among vaccinated or previously infected people, the US surge of Omicron – the sum total of all the devastation caused by the variant – was not as “mild” as many had hoped.

A man is lying in a hospital bed wearing a mask.

Kevin Barrett, in quarantine after exposure to COVID-19, is recovering from an injury at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

But each wave of coronavirus peaks in due course and then begins to ebb – and over the past few days new signs have emerged across the country that indicate the tide is starting to turn again.

So here’s some good news about Omicron, that the worst of its spread could be in the rearview mirror.

Case numbers are falling in New York — and they’re falling even faster than they’ve risen.

New York City was the first place in the United States to be reviewed by Omicron: between Christmas and New Year’s Day, reported cases have more than doubled thereon average, from about 15,000 per day to about 33,000 per day.

Previously, America’s largest city had never averaged more than 6,200 cases in a single day. As of January 10, it averaged over 40,000.

But since then, the transmission has fallen off a cliff.

According to NYC Health Department data – which is adjusted to reflect the date of diagnosis – the peak likely came on January 3, when the average number of confirmed and probable cases reached 42,670.

A metro with open doors behind a sign saying: Need a helping hand?  Find one near you: ny.gov/vaccine

A COVID-19 vaccine reminder advertisement on a New York City subway platform. (Michael Nagle/Xinhua via Getty Images)

By January 15, however, that number had dropped to 16,330, a drop of 62% in less than two weeks.

In the dozen days before the peak, the number of cases in New York was increasing at a rate of about 47%, which means that it is now decreasing faster than it has increased.

This is encouraging as it suggests that once numbers in other parts of the country peak, those places could also see Omicron die out even After quickly and suddenly that it broke in the first place.

In fact, if New York’s experience is any indication, most of the current wave of transmission could actually subside by mid-February, about two months after the start.

In comparison, previous US outbreaks took about four months from start to finish.

Other cities are following NYC’s lead.

More good news: New York is not alone.

Right after Omicron exploded in New York, it began to take off in other dense, well-connected cities across the United States.

Between Dec. 6 and Dec. 20, for example, cases rose 442% in Houston, 285% in Washington, DC, 219% in Miami and 170% in Cleveland.

Over the past two weeks, however, cases have finally started to drop in most of these hard-hit cities: by 49% in Cleveland, by 20% in Washington, DC, by 7% in Miami. In Houstoncases are down week after week.

A healthcare worker administers a COVID-19 test.

A healthcare worker administers a COVID test in North Miami on January 13. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Similar U-turns are also underway in Chicago, Boston, philadelphia cream and Baltimore.

Meanwhile, even cities where cases have yet to officially turn are showing signs that they are on the verge of doing so: a lower percentage of COVID tests coming back positive (Angels); decrease in Omicron levels in wastewater samples (the bay area).

Less vaccinated and more rural areas will take a bit longer – but some may start to show improvement.

Because of the way Omicron tends to spread – quickly, first in the densest places – American cities have been ahead of the curve; peripheral regions have lagged behind. This largely explains why the states where the virus is now spreading the fastest are mostly rural: South Carolina, Oklahoma, Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Alaska, Nebraska, Idaho, Wyoming. These places also tend to have lower than average vaccination rates.

As Omicron spreads to less populated areas, the concern is that lower immunity levels and weaker healthcare infrastructure will lead to disproportionately high levels of hospitalizations and deaths.

This dynamic is certainly worth watching as today’s rising rural worst cases work their way through the system in the weeks ahead.

A paramedic moves a bed in a COVID patient's home in Shawnee, Okla.

A paramedic moves a cot into the home of a COVID patient in Shawnee, Okla., Jan. 12. (Nick Oxford/Reuters)

Even so, at least three largely rural states with lower vaccination rates – Missouri, Georgia and Kentucky – may are already approaching their own setswith positivity rate which seem to be stabilizing or even decreasing.

In fact, as researcher Conor Kelly has pointed out, positivity rates are now heading towards “in the right direction” on the other side each region of the country.

A broader turnaround could be next, with other rural states not far behind.

The best news of all? Hospitalizations appear to follow the same downward trajectory.

As everyone knows by now, the most important metric isn’t how many people test positive for Omicron; the most important measure is how many of those people get sick enough to go to the hospital or pass it on to others who end up there.

By any measure, forcing US hospitals to deal with 157,000 COVID-19 patients at once is a huge burden — regardless of whether a certain percentage of those patients tested positive “incidentally” upon admission. for another disease. Patients with COVID must be separated from others, and health workers who test positive must isolate, regardless of the severity of their symptoms, leading to widespread staff shortages.

Like recently Ed Yong of the Atlantic Explain“In the short time since the discovery of Omicron, the popular narrative about the variant has calcified around the idea that it is softer. This is true for individuals, and compared to Delta, but the variant is definitely not benign for unvaccinated people, for those who might develop long COVID of a so-called “mild” infectionand especially not for the health system as a whole.

As the number of hospitalizations typically lags about two weeks behind schedule, it will take some time before the extreme pressure on medical professionals eases. And again, this process will take longer in most rural areas, which are closer to the start of their own outbreaks than the end – and where hospitalization and death rates may be higher than in rural areas. cities with higher vaccination rates.

A nurse bends over a hospital bed.

Nurse Estella Wilmarth attends to a patient at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy explained on Sunday how “the next few weeks will be difficult” as Omicron continues to grow in different parts of the US

“The good news is that there are parts of the country – New York in particular, and other parts of the Northeast, where we are starting to see a plateau and, in some cases, an early decline in cases,” Murthy told CNN. “The challenge is that… the whole country is not moving at the same pace. The Omicron wave started later in other parts of the country.

But the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel is beginning to flicker even now.

In New York, for example, the average number of daily COVID hospital admissions fell from about 1,000 on January 5 to about 500 ten days later – a rate roughly on par with the drop in cases. Overall hospitalizations falls for several days; they are now at their lowest level since Christmas Eve. Intensive care and intubation numbers are also down.

More broadly, regional hospitalizations are begins to stabilize in the Northeast and Midwest. And while this is a tentative sign of progress that may reflect delays in reporting due to the holidays, the number of COVID patients nationwide has now declined for three days in a row — for the first time in over a month.

It is perhaps too soon, in short, to say that Omicron has reached its peak in the United States. But the peak is coming – and it seems to be coming sooner rather than later.

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