Some experts have hoped that the Omicron variant would burn through the United States quickly, hit a peak, and decline without a spike in deaths or a strain on the nation’s hospital systems.
The jury remains out, but there are signs that the Omicron wave is starting to decline in some parts of the country.
According to The New York Times’ morning newsletter, the Omicron variant appears to be following the pattern from countries where it first appeared, such as South Africa and the United Kingdom.
"New Covid-19 cases are plummeting in a growing list of places,” the Times said. “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.”
Cases have been plunging especially in the Northeast. Such states as Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York have seen 30 percent decreases in new cases in the last week, with states like Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania also showing 10 percent drops.
Even so, the lagging nature of COVID-19 deaths indicates that deaths are likely to increase in the coming weeks, the Associated Press reported this week. That analysis predicted that “50,000 to 300,000 more Americans could die by the time the wave subsides in mid-March.” That wave of new deaths would peak in late January or early February.
While Omicron leads, on average, to milder illness than the Delta and other previous variants, the sheer amount of volume of new cases is likely to lead to many deaths.
“A lot of people are still going to die because of how transmissible omicron has been,” University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi told the AP. “It unfortunately is going to get worse before it gets better.”
Meanwhile, FiveThirtyEight’s Maggie Koerth examined a topic that’s occasionally come up throughout the pandemic: “Natural immunity.”
It remains a question whether those who have recovered the Omicron variant will develop immunity to other variants of the virus. Dr. Anthony Fauci has said that it’s too soon to tell, as have other experts.
“One important takeaway from all that pre-omicron research: Infection-induced immunity and vaccine-induced immunity are pretty similar,” Koerth wrote. “On the whole, studies found that the efficacy of infection-induced immunity was about the same as what you’d get from a two-dose mRNA vaccine, and sometimes higher.”
However, it remains to be seen whether immunity from Omicron will work the same way.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.