Monday, June 5

Ómicron is approaching the peak of infections in the US and in some regions only 60% of the population has been vaccinated

The variant ómicron is starting to loosen its grip on the northeastern United States, but experts warn it will take longer for the latest wave of COVID-19 to recede across the country.

The rapid rise and rapid decline of the strain in one of the most populous parts of the United States echoes its trajectory in areas of Europe and South Africa, where infections spiked only to decline again almost as quickly. That raised hopes that while omicron at times seemed like a repeat of the worst days of the early pandemic, it will soon subside.

However, the shape of the omicron wave may look different in various parts of the country, depending on vaccination rates and hospital capacity in those areas. While omicron has been milder than other variants, it has put a strain on healthcare providers across the country, and infections in children have been higher this time.

At the national level,The omicron wave could peak this week, according to projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.. Still, states where omicron spread came later will see a delayed peak, forecasters say.

“Omicron is falling as fast as it rose,” said Ali Mokdad, an IHME professor and director of strategy for population health at the University of Washington. “We are going to go through a couple more weeks that are very difficult for our hospitals, but in the middle of February, March, we should be in a very good position.”

But low U.S. vaccination rates in certain regions have caused some experts to worry that the country may not recover as quickly from omicron. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 80 percent of Americans over the age of 5 have received at least one dose of the vaccine. But some states, including Idaho, Wyoming and Louisiana, are struggling to get above 60 percent.

“Data from other countries is really a canary in the coal mine for us, but really our data is very unique to states,” said University of Alabama epidemiologist Bertha Hidalgo. “We are guided more by what we see inside the United States than what we see outside.”

In Alabama, only 60 percent of the state’s eligible population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, and the state has not reinstated COVID mitigation measures in the wake of omicron. Over the past two weeks, the state has continued to see a spike in cases, causing Hidalgo to worry that Alabama doesn’t experience the same rapid recession. The coming weeks will determine whether or not the state’s viral curve follows the same path as northeastern states like New York, which identified its first case 14 days before Alabama.

New York, which has already seen a drop in cases and hospitalizations, has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country. In New York City, public officials have also been strict in promoting mask wearing, while also enforcing vaccine mandates for closed restaurants and entertainment venues.

Even as infections subside, the effects of omicron will continue to be felt as some of the sickest patients succumb to the disease. The CDC’s most recent forecast from January 17, which takes into account the IHME model and many others, still predicts that COVID-19 deaths will continue to rise over the next four weeks.

The hesitation toward premature optimism is valid: This month, The United States reached 850,000 COVID-related deaths, more than any other nation. Y experts have wrongly predicted the beginning of the end of the pandemic before. Omicron was discovered only two months ago, so it is impossible to accurately determine the trajectory of the virus in the coming weeks and months.

To stay

What the experts do agree on is that COVID-19, in one way or another, is here to stay.

“COVID-19 as a pandemic, in the institute’s view, is over,” said IHME’s Mokdad. “But COVID-19 as a virus will be around for a long time.”

He said antiviral pills from Merck & Co. and Pfizer, along with vaccines and booster shots, will be essential tools to help prevent future surges. Studies have also repeatedly shown that wearing well-fitting masks indoors can go a long way in slowing the spread.

Wafaa El-Sadr, director of ICAP Global Health at Columbia University and leader of the Pandemic Response Institute in New York City, said omicron’s rapid rate of transmission helped quickly “saturate” the population, infecting anyone vulnerable to infection. El-Sadr said the combination of immunity based on previous infection and vaccination against the virus provides a level of protection: fewer people are likely to get sick. Cases and hospitalizations may decline rapidly in the coming weeks, he said, but it’s important to start thinking about how to live with the virus long-term.

“Now is the time to try to change the narrative,” El-Sadr said. “How can we adjust our lives in the context of COVID instead of continuing to be in tremendous fear?”