On average, the fast-moving omicron variety causes less severe illness, yet COVID-19 mortality in the United States are increasing, with modelers predicting that 50,000 to 300,000 additional Americans will die by the time the wave fades in mid-March.
Since mid-November, the seven-day rolling average for daily new COVID-19 fatalities in the United States has been going rising, hitting roughly 1,700 on Jan. 17 – still well below the record of 3,300 in January 2021. COVID-19 mortality among nursing home residents began to rise slightly two weeks ago, but are still 10 times lower than last year, when most residents were not vaccinated.
Despite the fact that omicron appears to produce lesser sickness on average, the record quantity of infection spreading across the country, with instances still on the rise in several areas, implies many vulnerable people will become extremely ill. If the higher end of the forecasts come true, cumulative COVID-19 fatalities in the United States will exceed 1 million by early spring.
“A lot of people are still going to die because of how transmissible omicron has been,” said epidemiologist Jason Salemi of the University of South Florida. “Unfortunately, things will worse before they improve.”
In Johnson County, Kansas, morgues are starting to run out of room, according to Dr. Sanmi Areola, head of the health department. This year, more than 30 people have died in the county, the great majority of them were unvaccinated.
However, health professionals have found it difficult to convey the idea that a less severe form may still kill thousands of people. It’s tough to visualize the math – that a tiny percentage of a large number of diseases may result in a large number of fatalities.
“Even if you have a lesser risk of being sick as an individual, you’re going to see more sick individuals overall,” said Katriona Shea of Pennsylvania State University, who co-leads a team that combines various pandemic models and shares the aggregated estimates with the White House.
According to Shea, the surge of fatalities on route to the United States would peak in late January or early February. Weekly fatalities may match or exceed the delta high in early February, and may even surpass the previous year’s U.S. peak in deaths.
Some of these deaths are thought to be due to those infected with the delta strain, but specialists think omicron is also killing people.
“The imminent wave of fatalities is omicron driven,” Shea warned of the impending death toll. Between mid-December and mid-March, the pooled models predict 1.5 million Americans will be hospitalized and 191,000 will die. Given the variability in the models, the number of people that died in the United States during the omicron wave might range from 58,000 to 305,000.
Nonetheless, it’s becoming obvious that omicron poses a smaller danger than prior forms. Omicron appears to cause lesser sickness than delta, according to new findings from almost 70,000 individuals in Southern California.
Patients receiving omicron had a 53 percent reduced chance of hospitalization with respiratory symptoms, a 74 percent lower risk of ICU admission, and a 91 percent lower risk of mortality, according to a research published online and mentioned during a recent White House briefing. Researchers from Kaiser Permanente and the University of California, Berkeley collaborated on the study, which has not yet been peer reviewed.
Sara Y. Tartof, a Kaiser Permanente research scientist, remarked, “It’s hard for me to say straight out it’s good news.” “There’s some good news in that if you’re infected, your chances of being extremely ill are reduced, but from a societal standpoint, it’s a huge burden for us.” It’s still a severe problem, and we need to stick to the methods and behaviors that have proven to be effective.”
Overburdened hospitals may also contribute to an increase in mortality, according to Marc Lipsitch of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and scientific director of the CDC’s forecasting unit.
“As medical professionals have told us, in regions with extremely low staffing and patient overloads, the quality of service tends to decline,” Lipsitch added. “It’s possible that this will result in increased mortality rates, but none of the models I’m aware of predict this.”