When Will Omicron Peak in the U.S.? Here’s What Experts Say

Mohit Oberoi, CFA - Author
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Jan. 5 2022, Published 8:19 a.m. ET

The U.S., which was anyways the worst affected country amid the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of total deaths, reached another grim milestone when the daily cases surpassed 1 million on Jan. 3. The omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus is spreading fast, which is leading to an increase in new cases. When will the omicron cases peak in the U.S.? Here’s what different experts have to say.

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According to the CDC, the omicron variant accounted for over 95 percent of the total cases in the U.S. last week. Fast transmission has been a notable feature of the omicron variant even though it's much less lethal than previous variants, especially the delta variant.

What did South Africa experience during the wave of the omicron variant?

The omicron variant was first detected in South Africa. It took four weeks for the cases to peak and the numbers continued to decline in the next two weeks. However, there are some differences between South Africa and the U.S. First, the median age in South Africa is much lower than that of the U.S.

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Second, a much lower percentage of the South African population was fully vaccinated when the omicron variant struck the country. Also, some people in the country were vaccinated with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which research has shown offered almost no protection against the variant.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci thinks that omicron cases will peak by the end of January.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to the White House, has been the face of the administration ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started. In December 2021, he said that the omicron wave in the country would peak by the end of January. However, he cautioned that it can’t be said with certainty because the virus has surprised the world multiple times since the pandemic began.

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Experts aren't certain about when the omicron variant will peak.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady offered different scenarios on when the cases would peak. She sees a 50 percent chance that cases in Chicago would peak in the first half of January. However, she is 85 percent–90 percent confident that cases will peak by the end of the month.

What does the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub say?

In the “emergency” Round 11 modeling, studying the impact of the omicron variant in the U.S., the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub said that most models predict that both new cases and hospitalizations will peak before the end of January. None of the models predicts a peak beyond February 2022.

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The COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub has listed several scenarios between December 19, 2021, and March 12, 2022. It has forecasted between 391,000 and 2,040,000 cumulative hospitalizations. Under scenario A, the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub expects a median of 750,000 hospitalizations, while scenario B calls for an estimated 822,000 hospitalizations.

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However, the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub cautioned that “substantial uncertainty remains” as the “contributing models show a high level of qualitative and quantitative heterogeneity.” It also said that there's uncertainty about the severity of the omicron variant and the very definition of a case in the omicron wave might change.

While the omicron variant is far less fatal, the sheer numbers make it troublesome. While the hospitalizations and deaths are much lower in percentage terms, the numbers will be high when we look at them in the absolutes. As with the previous variants, vaccination and following COVID-19 appropriate behavior is the best weapon that we have against the virus.

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