These States Are Past the Omicron Peak, Expert Says
Infections have already dropped to their pre-surge lows in some areas.
After scientists first discovered it in late November, Omicron was able to quickly replace Delta as the dominant COVID-19 variant in many areas around the globe. The following rise of cases in the U.S. was unprecedented, with infections skyrocketing to record new heights on a national scale. But now, experts point to decreasing numbers that show certain states may already be past the Omicron peak brought on by the surge over the past several weeks. Read on to see which areas may have already moved past the worst of the variant.
Some states in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast are likely past their Omicron peak.
During an appearance on CBS' Face the Nation on Feb. 6, former Food & Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, discussed the current trajectory of the pandemic in the U.S. He pointed out that the sharp rise in cases over the past several weeks is showing signs of receding almost everywhere, with some states having rebounded to much lower levels of reported infections.
"If you look at places like New York, New Jersey, Maryland, cases are down to about 20 to 30 cases per 100,000 people per day, which is a low level. That's about where we were before the Delta surge," he said. While adding that the city of Boston had also seen a significant decline in cases, he suggested that "if you look at some of the leading indicators [they] have come way down and I think that they're through the worst of this particular wave of infection."
Gottlieb added that other parts of the U.S. aren't seeing cases decrease as quickly yet.
According to data from The New York Times, the national daily case average has seen a significant decrease, dropping 57 percent over the past two weeks to 295,922 as of Feb. 6. However, the overall number remains relatively high—still topping the previous record of 251,232 seen on Jan. 11 of last year—with Gottlieb warning that certain states are still struggling to get the latest variant under control.
"Other parts of the country are still at about 100 cases per 100,000 people per day. One hundred and forty [if] you look at states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, right now, Oklahoma, they're about at that level. So some parts of the country still are in the thick of their Omicron wave, coming down, but still in the thick of it," he said.
Experts speculate that Omicron is already running out of people to infect.
Despite being found to be less likely to cause serious illness in those it infects, the Omicron variant was also found to be highly transmissible and even capable of causing mild breakthrough cases in some fully vaccinated people. But experts also point out that this trajectory also explains why infections appear to be dropping so rapidly in some places.
"It has infected everybody that could be infected out and about—and that means automatically it will run out of people to infect and start coming down as fast as it went up," Ali Mokdad, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, told Vox.
Even as new cases are dropping, deaths from the virus have risen in the past week.
Unfortunately, this doesn't mean the worst effects of the surge are totally over yet. "Fifty percent of the infections have occurred and now another 50 will happen as we come down," Mokdad said. "So we still have a couple of weeks ahead of us that are dangerous in the United States. … A small fraction of them are going to the hospitals, but a small fraction of a huge number is a lot."
And while cases may be dropping on a national level, deaths from the virus are still on the rise. Just days after President Joe Biden commemorated the grim milestone of 900,000 lives lost in the U.S. to the pandemic, a four percent increase in deaths was reported over the past week, bringing it to a seven-day average of 2,608 as of Feb. 6, according to data from The Washington Post.
Gottlieb conceded during this interview that while things are heading in the right direction, it was still too soon to declare victory over COVID-19 just yet. "We're not close to the end right now, depending on how you measure that. I think that this is going to be a long struggle," he warned. "This is a virus that's going to be persistent. We're going to have to continue to take measures to protect vulnerable people."