Melody Schreiber reports:
A wave of new Omicron cases is beginning to surge in America and could peak as early as January, the Centers for Disease Controls (CDC) has warned, as states are scrambling to prepare for overloaded hospitals. The US has passed 800,000 deaths, including 1 in 100 Americans over the age of 65.
The Omicron variant accounted for nearly 3% of Covid cases in the US as of Saturday â€“ up from only 0.4% the week before, according to data from the CDC. The variant is expected to continue rising rapidly, based on the experiences of other countries and could be dominant within weeks.
â€œI suspect that those numbers are going to shoot up dramatically in the next couple of weeks,â€ said CÃ©line Gounder, infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at New York University and Bellevue Hospital, on Wednesday. She expects an Omicron wave to peak in late January and then come down sometime in February.
In a meeting with state health leaders on Tuesday, the CDC presented two scenarios, based on models, for how the variant might drive infections in the next few weeks and months. Omicron and Delta cases could peak as soon as January or a smaller surge of Omicron could happen in the spring.
Itâ€™s unclear which variant, Delta or Omicron, will dominate in the next few months or if they will coexist, Gounder said. Regardless, â€œwe anticipate an increase in hospitalizations, an increase in deaths and an increase in the burden on the health care system over the next couple of monthsâ€.
The US was already in the grips of a Delta wave that began before the Thanksgiving holiday, and officials fear that travel and gatherings over holidays like Christmas and New Yearâ€™s could add explosive growth to an already strained situation.
Schools across the US are seeing rises in cases, and some are closing early or cutting back on in-person activities. In New York, Cornell University reported 903 cases among students this week â€“ many of them cases of the Omicron variant among fully vaccinated people. The school closed early and went virtual.
In several states, hospitals are already close to being overwhelmed. In Michigan, hospital workers are now volunteering to work for free in ICUs, one doctor reports.