US faces wave of omicron deaths in coming weeks, models say



The average fast-moving omicron variation could cause less severe disease, but the number of COVID-19 deaths in the US is rising, and modelers forecast an additional 50,000 to 300,000 Americans could die by the end of the year. when the wave subsided in mid-March.

The daily new COVID-19 death rate in the United States has been trending upwards since mid-November, reaching nearly 1,700 on January 17 – still well below its peak of 3,300 in January 2021. COVID-19 deaths in residential nursing homes began to rise slightly two weeks ago, although they are still 10 times lower than they were last year before most residents were vaccinated.

While indications are that omicrons cause milder illness, unprecedented levels of transmission across the country, with cases still high in many states, mean many vulnerable people will become ill. severe illness. If the projections’ higher end is adopted, that would push the total number of American deaths from COVID-19 to more than 1 million by early spring.

“Many people will still die from how transmissible omicrons are,” said epidemiologist Jason Salemi of the University of South Florida. “Unfortunately, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

Sanmi Areola, director of the medical division, said Morgues are starting to run out of space in Johnson County, Kansas. More than 30 residents have died in the county this year, the majority of them unvaccinated.

But the notion that a variant that is generally less severe could still claim the lives of thousands is difficult for medical professionals. Its math – that a small percentage of a very high number of infections can lead to a very high number of deaths – is difficult to imagine.

“Overall, you’ll see more sick people even if you’re a lower-risk individual,” said Katriona Shea of ​​Pennsylvania State University, who co-led a team that put together several pandemic models. and share is expected in conjunction with the White House.

The wave of deaths headed to the United States will break out in late January or early February, Shea said. By early February, the weekly death toll could equal or surpass the delta’s top, and possibly even surpass the previous peak in US deaths last year.

An unspecified portion of these deaths are among those infected with the delta variant, but experts say omicrons are also claiming lives.

Shea talks about the coming wave of deaths. Combined models expect 1.5 million Americans to be hospitalized and 191,000 to die between mid-December and mid-March. Taking into account the uncertainty in the models, the US death toll. in omicron waves can range from 58,000 to 305,000.

However, it is increasingly clear that the risk from omicrons is lower than with earlier variants. New evidence from nearly 70,000 patients in Southern California suggests that omicrons cause milder disease than delta.

One study, posted online and cited during a recent White House briefing, found that patients taking omicrons had a 53% lower risk of hospitalization with respiratory symptoms, a lower risk of ICU admissions 74% more and a 91% lower risk of death. The study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, comes from researchers at Kaiser Permanente and the University of California, Berkeley.

Study co-author Sara Y. Tartof, a Kaiser Permanente research scientist, said: “It’s hard for me to say outright that that’s good news. “There may be good news in the sense that if you get infected your chances of getting very sick are reduced, but from a societal perspective it is a huge burden for us. This is still a serious situation and we need to maintain the practices and behaviors we know to protect us. “

Marc Lipsitch of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and chief scientific officer of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s forecasting center said overcrowded hospitals could also be contributing to more deaths. .

“In places that are extremely understaffed and overwhelmed with patients, as medical professionals have told us, the quality of care starts to suffer,” says Lipsitch. “That could also lead to higher mortality, but that’s not in any of the models that I know of.”


Associated Press writer Heather Hollingsworth of Mission, Kansas, contributed.

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