Dr. Fauci Says This Is When the Omicron Wave Will Peak
Here's the latest COVID prediction from the infectious disease expert.
A new variant has caused the U.S. to hit a record number of COVID cases nearly two years into the pandemic. On Dec. 29, the country saw 265,427 new daily infections, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. This is around 13,400 more cases than were seen during the previous record set on Jan. 11 of this year, before most people had been vaccinated. The Omicron variant is spreading rapidly across the country, causing new infections, reinfections, and breakthrough infections among fully vaccinated people. But while virus experts warn that cases are likely to keep rising, there might already be an end in sight. Read on to find out when one of the top infectious disease experts in the country predicts that the Omicron wave in the U.S. will peak.
Dr. Fauci says Omicron will likely peak at the end of January.
During a Dec. 29 interview on CNBC's Closing Bell, top White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, discussed the current Omicron wave in the U.S., giving his thoughts on when it might start to come down. According to the infectious disease expert, we could be about a month away from the peak.
"I would imagine, given the size of our country and the diversity of vaccination versus not vaccination, that it likely will be more than a couple of weeks, probably by the end of January, I would think," Fauci said.
Compared to other variants, that's not that long of a timeframe. Omicron was first discovered on Nov. 24 and it started surging in the U.S. in mid-December. The end of January would mean a surge of less than two months, compared to the months spent with Delta's surge in the U.S. from July through October.
The Omicron variant has peaked quickly in other countries.
The White House adviser noted that it is "tough to say" for certain that the new variant will peak at the end of January, but he did back up his prediction by pointing to what happened in South Africa, one of the first countries to experience an Omicron surge. "It certainly peaked pretty quickly in South Africa," Fauci said. "It went up almost vertically and turned around very quickly."
Officials in South Africa said they reached their Omicron peak in mid-December, as new COVID cases fell 20.8 percent in the country as of Dec. 18, per CNN. Ridhwaan Suliman, a senior researcher at the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), told the news outlet that South Africa's wave with Omicron was "significantly shorter" than those with previous versions of the virus. It took "about half the number of days to reach the peak compared with previous waves in South Africa," Suliman said.
The new variant might be producing less severe illness as well.
While Omicron is certain to lead to more infections over the next month, these new cases might be less severe than what they would have been with another variant. During a Dec. 29 White House COVID Response Team briefing, Fauci pointed to several studies from other countries on the new variant's severity. According to one study from the UK Health Security Agency, the risk of emergency care need or hospital admissions with Omicron was 60 percent that of the Delta variant. And the risk of hospitalization alone with the variant was 40 percent of that for Delta.
"All indications point to a lesser severity of Omicron versus Delta," Fauci said. "It is difficult to determine what degree of lessened severity is due to preexisting immunity or the intrinsically lower virulence of Omicron."
The infectious disease expert did warn that the variant's increased ability to spread might offset some of this positive news. "Increased transmissibility of Omicron resulting in an extremely high volume of cases may override some of the impact of the lower disease severity. And so we should not become complacent since our hospital system could still be stressed in certain areas of the country," he said.
Fauci also says the Omicron variant might help push us to the end of the pandemic.
According to Fauci, Omicron could possibly hasten the end of the pandemic if the highly transmissible variant does replace other strains of the virus that cause more severe infections. "I would hope that's the case … If you have a very transmissible virus that replaces another virus, and [the new variant] has less of a degree of severity, that would be a positive outcome," he said on CNBC's Closing Bell.
But the White House warned against getting too optimistic with predictions based on research that is not yet certain. "What you say is possible, that that would happen, but there's no guarantee that that would mean the end of a serious outbreak. I hope that's what's being foreshown now, right? That we're going to be seeing that. Hope so, but can't guarantee it," Fauci said.
He added, "This virus has fooled us before. Remember we thought with the vaccines everything was going to be fine, and along came Delta, which threw a monkey wrench into everything,"