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US surgeon general: Weeks ahead "will be tough" as US faces omicron wave

Omicron could peak in many parts of the US soon
Posted at 11:09 AM, Jan 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-18 13:07:28-05

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy warns that while many areas of the country already hit hard by the omicron variant are starting to see cases plateau or improve, many other parts aren't keeping up with that pace. He warns that the nation could expect to see a peak in the coming weeks.

Murthy told CNN on Sunday, "There are parts of the country, New York in particular, and other parts of the Northeast where we are starting to see a plateau, and in some cases, an early decline in cases." 

Data from Johns Hopkins University shows that since the first case of COVID-19 was reported on Jan. 21, 2020, the country has reported 66,421,749 cases of the virus, and 851,730 deaths related to COVID-19.

"The omicron wave started later in other parts of the country, so we shouldn't expect a national peak in the next coming days. The next few weeks will be tough," Murthy said.

Scientists are also warning that we should also expect other worrisome variants to spread, and say that every infection provides an opportunity for the virus to mutate, as the Associated press reported. Modelers are forecasting that between 50,000 and 300,000 more Americans could die by the time the wave abates, which is expected to happen in mid-March.

Since mid-November the seven-day rolling average for new COVID-19 deaths each day in the U.S. has been trending upwards, the Associated Press reported. The daily rolling average had reached almost 1,700 by Jan. 17. The peak in January 2021 rose to 3,300.

Total U.S. deaths could be pushed over 1 million by early spring if the higher end of current projections happens.

While omicron appears to cause milder symptoms on average, vulnerable people are still at risk of becoming severely sick.

“A lot of people are still going to die because of how transmissible omicron has been,” Epidemiologist Jason Salemi of the University of South Florida said.

“The faster omicron spreads, the more opportunities there are for mutation, potentially leading to more variants,” Boston University infectious disease epidemiologist Leonardo Martinez told the Associated Press.

In South America, the omicron variant is pushing across the continent causing medical workers to stay home sick and causing some hospitals to not be able to admit new patients, like one hospital in Bolivia's largest city.

In Argentina, a third wave is causing staff from the cleaning crews to technicians to have to stay isolated as infections rise despite a complete vaccination schedule.

Jorge Coronel, president of Argentina’s medical confederation told the Associated Press, “While symptoms are mostly mild to moderate, that group needs to be isolated.”

The wave of deaths that experts expect to hit the United States is forecasted to crest in late January or early February, according to Katriona Shea of Pennsylvania State University, who told the Associated Press, “Overall, you’re going to see more sick people even if you as an individual have a lower chance of being sick.” 

Shea is part of a team where she co-leads a project that combines several pandemic models and then shares the combined projections with the White House as guidance.