For anyone getting complacent about the coronavirus because the now-dominant omicron variant typically causes less-severe disease than previous strains, here’s a sobering thought: 50,000 to 300,000 more Americans may die of COVID-19 before the current surge ebbs in mid-March.
Those are the projections of modelers, providing a grim reminder that omicron’s remarkable infectiousness more than makes up for its seemingly softer punch.
The seven-day rolling average for daily new COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. has been trending upward since mid-November, reaching nearly 1,700 on Monday – still well below the peak of 3,300 in January 2021.
The biggest concern in the coming weeks is reflected by simple math: Even if new infections have peaked in some parts of the U.S., they’re averaging around 800,000 a day nationwide, more than three times as many as in that brutal wave a year ago. That will inevitably lead to hospitals stretched beyond their limits and thousands of deaths. There are currently about 150,000 patients in hospitals with COVID.
If the higher end of projections becomes reality, total U.S. deaths from COVID-19 could soar over 1 million by early spring.
“A lot of people are still going to die because of how transmissible omicron has been,” University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi said.
Katriona Shea of Pennsylvania State University, who co-leads a team that pulls together several pandemic models and shares the combined projections with the White House, expects the coming wave of deaths to crest in late January or early February, possibly surpassing last year’s delta peak.
“This is omicron driven,” Shea said, underscoring once again the danger posed by the latest variant.