New models suggest that the milder but more infectious omicron variant will cause 50,000 to 300,000 deaths in the United States before March.
Although many studies show that Omicron causes less severe disease than past variants of Covid, the sheer infectiousness of the strain is likely to lead to more deaths.
“A lot of people are still going to die because of how transmissible omicron has been,” epidemiologist Jason Salemi told the Associated Press. “It unfortunately is going to get worse before it gets better.”
Although it seems counter-intuitive and difficult to conceive, experts believe that even a sliver of the high number of Omicron infections will bring an unprecedented number of deaths.
“Overall, you’re going to see more sick people even if you as an individual have a lower chance of being sick,” said Katriona Shea, to the Associated Press. Shea works with a team to amalgamate multiple pandemic models for the Biden Administration.
Shea believes that the oncoming deaths will peak at the end of this month or early February and perhaps push the overall US death toll past 1 million.
Omicron variant less severe according to South African, California studies
Up until now, it was still unknown if this is because of the increased immunity as a result of vaccination or past illness, or if Omicron is simply less severe in and of itself.
A new South African study showed that about one-quarter of the reduced risk of severe illness from Omicron was due to the characteristics inherent in the virus itself.
“In the Omicron-driven wave, severe COVID-19 outcomes were reduced mostly due to protection conferred by prior infection and/or vaccination, but intrinsically reduced virulence may account for an approximately 25% reduced risk of severe hospitalisation or death compared to Delta,” the study said.
A new, much larger study of almost 70,000 Covid patients in California likewise showed that the variant was less severe in its effects.
The study found that Omicron variant infections were half as likely as those caused by the Delta variant to send people to the hospital. Looking at the medical records of 52,000 Omicron patients who sought care at Kaiser Permanente of Southern California, there was not one single patient who needed intubation during their hospital stay.
In a statement in line with the South African study, Dr. Joseph Lewnard, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Berkeley who was an author of the California study, stated “It’s truly a viral factor that accounts for reduced severity.”