As many as 40 percent of Americans could be infected with COVID-19 during the Omicron variant-fueled surge hitting the US, an expert says, as the nation logs a record 1.4 million infections in a single day. However, deaths caused by the variant remain low and are not growing at anywhere near the same rate as cases.
Dr Scott Gottlieb, former chief of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), told CNBC’s Squawk Box on Tuesday that the variant is infecting around one percent of Americans every day, and around ten percent of the population is actively infected at any given point.
‘You look at places like New York, Washington, DC, Connecticut, New Jersey, the positivity rates starting to decline, so we’re probably peaking in terms of the number of new daily cases,’ he said.
‘[Then it will] move west, it’s gonna move to the Midwest and the plains [and we’re] still going to see high caseload nationally.’
He predicts that between 30 to 40 percent of America’s 330 million people will be infected by the time this current surge comes to an end. Gottlieb also projects that it may be a few weeks until the U.S. sees cases begin to decline, as the virus will slowly peak than recede in different regions of the country in the near-future.
Health officials reported Tuesday morning that the variant now accounts for an estimated 98 percent of cases in the U.S., up from 95 percent last week, and meaning that nearly all cases in the U.S. are of the strain that was only discovered months ago.
Over the past seven days, the U.S. has averaged 767,000 new cases per day, a metric that often smooths out spikes caused by reporting lags, which is the most the nation has averaged during the pandemic. The average, which was sitting at 235,269 cases two weeks ago, has more than tripled over the past 14 days.
Cases rose by 27 percent from the 1.171 million new cases recorded last Monday, January 3 – the prior one day record. That was also the first time that daily cases have passed the one million mark. Deaths this week increased by 12 percent, from the 1,688 recorded last Monday, according to a DailyMail.com analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.
It is yet another marker set during the US’s Omicron-fueled virus surge. While signs are pointing to the variant slowly losing steam and peaking in the near future, one expert fears that nearly half of Americans will eventually be infected by the new strain.
States don’t report complete case data over the weekend, which means infection and fatality figures slump on Saturday and Sunday, with Monday’s numbers always including a backlog of cases. That also means that infection numbers will likely drop in the coming days.
On Monday, the United States reached a new record for number of Americans hospitalized with the COVID, with more than 146,000 people currently admitted with the virus, higher than the 132,051 record set in January last year.
Despite rising hospitalizations, not as many Americans are dying from the virus as they were in previous surges, and not all of these hospitalizations are directly caused by the virus. Many people who go to the hospital for reason outside of Covid, such as injury or other ailments, are being tested while there.
In England, which the US often follow at least two weeks behind in terms of trends, cases are actually declining. The nation was struck hard and early by the Omicron variant, but the new strain seems to be burning out. Infections have dropped by six percent over the past week, and hospitalizations could be nearing a peak as well.
Cases in South Africa, the first nation to experience a surge of the variant last year, have plummeted. The country is recording around 7,500 new cases per day, a sharp decline from the 23,000 cases reached at the peak of the nation’s surge.
The CDC reports that the Omicron variant accounts for 98% of new cases in the U.S., entirely taking over the Delta variant within two months of its discovery in late November
The US recorded 1,485,764 new COVID cases on Monday, according to a DailyMail.com analysis of Johns Hopkins data. Above, a mobile testing site in Brooklyn on Monday
Deaths, however, climbed by just 12 percent to 1,906. Above, a person waits for a COVID test in the snow in Boston on Friday
Cars line up at a Bluewater Diagnostic COVID testing site in Louisville, Kentucky on Monday
The lower death counts continue to spark hopes that the Omicron surge, and its associated closures and interruptions, will soon end. Above, a New York City teacher rallies for increased COVID safety measures in schools on Monday
In the US, deaths are growing at a slower rate with 1,679 Americans dying from the virus every day – an 11 percent increase from two weeks ago. This signals either the effectiveness of the vaccines, or the more mild nature of the new strain.
Omicron cases are continuing to rise in the U.S but deaths caused by the virus are not following at the same rate, signaling the variant that has ground much of America to a standstill is not making people as sick as the Delta variant.
On Sunday, Dr Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), appeared on Fox News, and failed to answer whether or not many deaths currently being attributed to the virus actually have other causes. She also told ABC’s Good Morning America last week that 75 percent of people who have died from the Omicron variant in the U.S. have at least four comorbidities – in what she called ‘encouraging news’.
The data she cited was from a massive study that included 1.2 million people who were vaccinated from the start of the shots’ availability in December 2020 to October 2021. Of the study group, only 39, or 0.015 percent, died of Covid after vaccination. And of that group, nearly all had at least four risk factors.
It is a promising study that highlights the importance and effectiveness of the Covid vaccines. Deaths among vaccinated people are rare, and almost all mortality can be prevented.
The US also surpassed 60 million total cases of the virus as of Monday morning according to Johns Hopkins University, another grim milestone for the country. As of Tuesday morning, Johns Hopkins University reports that America has recorded 61.5 million Covid cases and 839,500 deaths from the virus since the pandemic first began in early 2020.
New York on Monday recorded 54,749 new COVID cases – around the same as last Monday, when 51,698 cases were confirmed
Kathy Hochul, the governor of New York, revealed new data on Monday showing the COVID cases were plateauing in her state – giving hope for other beleaguered states
On Monday, New York state alone recorded 54,749 new COVID-19 cases, marking an apparent stabilization of the virus, with 51,698 cases recorded the previous Monday.
Kathy Hochul, the governor of New York, gave rise to hope that perhaps the Omicron surge has plateaued in her state, as it has in the United Kingdom.
In South Africa, where it was first detected, the outbreak has peaked and is now rapidly declining.
On Monday, Hochul confirmed 12,022 hospitalizations – a rise from the 9,563 reported last Monday.
She reported 135 deaths in her state; an increase from the 103 people who died last Monday.
‘We have the tools to fight this winter surge, and how quickly we turn the corner will depend on our actions,’ said Hochul.
‘Please get your second dose if you haven’t already, and get the booster if you’re eligible.
‘Parents and guardians, please get your children vaccinated.
‘Wear a mask to help stop the spread, and stay home if you aren’t feeling well.
‘Let’s learn from the lessons of the past and finally put this winter surge behind us.’
Nationwide, the picture was less encouraging – but with New York the frequent bellwether, there was still hope that the surge will be as rapid but brief as experts hope.
The record surge began in December, only weeks after the new variant was discovered by South African health officials. Omicron is the most infectious strain of the virus yet, and its ability to evade vaccine immunity has presented additional challenges.
While New York is suffering the most from Omicron so far, every state in America is dealing with rising cases at the moment. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have recorded increases in cases over the past 14 days, and 47 states have seen daily case totals more than double over that period.
Worldwide, nearly ten million people have tested positive for the virus over the past week alone. Some believe this rampant spread of the virus will lead to it becoming ‘endemic’ – reaching the stage the common flu is at where it is ever-present, yet controllable for the most part.
Officials at the World Health Organization warn that this may not be the case, though, due to the unpredictable nature of Covid and the constant mutations of the virus.
Dr Catherine Smallwood, Covid-19 incident manager at the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said during a news briefing Tuesday that the virus is ‘way off’ from becoming endemic.
‘But what we’re seeing at the moment coming into 2022 is nowhere near that, we still have a huge amount of uncertainty, we still have a virus that’s evolving quite quickly and posing quite new challenges,’ she said.
‘So we’re certainly not at the point of being able to call it endemic,’
‘It may become endemic in due course, but pinning that down to 2022 is a little bit difficult at this stage… all of this of course depends on how we respond to it and widespread vaccination uptake on an equitable basis will be very, very key in moving towards such a scenario.’
Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, says that the world should be able to control Covid and even return to normal in the future – but only if people receive an annual vaccine, but it could require a decade of annual vaccination – signaling it could become endemic within the next decade.
Pfizer – which produces the most commonly used vaccine in America and in much of the world, has benefitted greatly from the sale of its joint vaccine project with the German company BioNTech.
Bourla appeared on CNBC’s ‘The Squawk Box’ Monday morning to discuss the future of the Covid pandemic and the role his company can play in fighting it. His statements come as the virus tears through the U.S. for a second consecutive January, and national health leaders go all-in on vaccines as a strategy to fight Covid.
American health leaders, like Dr Walensky and Dr Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease, have centered vaccines in their fight against the virus – even in the wake of a vaccine resistant strain.
The CDC also plans to soon upgrade its recommendation for masks to only include N95 and KN95 masks, which are believed to be the most protective but are also in short supply in some parts of America. Recently revealed data shows that commonly used cloth masks are not very effective at preventing spread of the Omicron variant.
The number of Americans hospitalized with Covid is nearing record levels, reaching 130,000 this week
While the variant can evade the immunity provided by the initial vaccine regimens, experts have found that vaccine booster shots can re-establish some of those protections. Breakthrough infections are also more mild than those in unvaccinated people, and the Omicron variant is found to be a more mild strain, less likely to cause infection or death than other strains of the virus.
Because of the rise of Omicron, and the potential for future variants with similar vaccine resistant properties to arise as well, some fear Covid may never be fully ended. As long as the virus continues to mutate, it will always be able to find away around vaccines, and the protection people receive from the shots seems to wane in a matter of months anyways.
Bourla told CNBC that Covid will likely be around for the next ten years – if not longer – though it can be controlled with a robust booster campaign.
‘We will have perfectly normal lives, with just injection maybe once a year,’ he said.
Pfizer’s vaccine has been deemed the gold standard worldwide, as the safest and most effective jab in the world. The shot has been administered over 300 million times in the U.S., almost 60 percent of total shots distributed, and is the only shot available to minors.
A top scientist at the pharmaceutical company also told Insider on Monday that testing for its Omicron-specific variant would begin trials by the end of January, and the shot could be available as early as March. Current plans have the dosage of this new shot being larger than that of the standard Pfizer vaccine.
The Omicron Covid variant could be less deadly than the flu
Omicron could be even less deadly than flu, scientists believe in a boost to hopes that the worst of the pandemic is over.
MailOnline analysis shows Covid killed one in 33 people who tested positive at the peak of the devastating second wave last January, compared to just one in 670 now. But experts believe the figure could be even lower because of Omicron.
The case fatality rate — the proportion of confirmed infections that end in death — for seasonal influenza is 0.1, the equivalent of one in 1,000.
Meanwhile, researchers at Washington University modelling the next stage of the pandemic expect Omicron to kill up to 99 per cent fewer people than Delta, in another hint it could be less deadly than flu.
But UK Government advisers estimated the overall figure stood at around 0.25 per cent before Omicron burst onto the scene, down from highs of around 1.5 per cent before the advent of life-saving vaccines.
If Omicron is 99 per cent less lethal than Delta, it suggests the current IFR could be as low as 0.0025 per cent, the equivalent of one in 40,000, although experts say this is unlikely. Instead, the Washington modelling estimates the figure actually sits in the region of 0.07 per cent, meaning approximately one in 1,430 people who get infected will succumb to the illness.
Getting a handle on America’s Covid situation has become a challenge in recent weeks. Long lags in reporting combined with testing shortages have led to the current case count constantly fluctuating, and likely being lower than actual totals. Hospitalizations and deaths, on the other hand, could be overcounted, with many being hospitalized or dying from another cause extraneously being listed as a death from the virus.
According to data from Johns Hopkins, the U.S. is averaging 709,850 new cases every day, and 1,648 deaths per day. Since the pandemic began, America has suffered 60 million infections and over 837,000 deaths.
Things may soon change, though, if America follows the path of England. Across the pond, cases have dropped by six percent over the past week. Hospitalizations have slightly risen by 3.3 percent over the past week, and at only 130 deaths per day, the mortality rate of the new variant has dropped as well.
British health experts confirmed on Tuesday that the mortality rate of this year’s surge is 21-fold lower than it was during the massive surge that struck the country last year. This is a testament to both the mild nature of the Omicron variant, and the effectiveness of the Covid vaccines and booster shots.
London, once a global hotspot of the new variant, now finds not of its boroughs among the 25 in England with the largest Covid outbreaks – another positive sign that the new strain is burning out.
The most vulnerable Britons, those over the age of 60, are seeing cases decline, and an increasing number of cases are among younger, healthier people under the age of 30.
A MailOnline.com analysis on English data finds the new strain could be very mild, even potentially more mild than the flu. Currently in the UK, around 0.15 percent of Covid cases are fatal, compared to 0.1 percent of flu cases. While one in every 1,000 people who catch the flu die, a Washington University analysis finds that one in every 1,400 people who catch Omicron will succumb to the virus.
A DailyMail.com analysis of data in the U.S. finds that around 0.23 percent of cases are fatal, though many Covid cases in America are going entirely undetected – which would bring that figure down even further.
Data from the CDC from the 2019 to 2020 flu season – before the pandemic – found that 30 million Americans suffered a symptomatic case of the virus that year. Around 20,000 died, or a death rate of 0.05 percent.
Some experts are hopeful that the high infectiousness of the variant, combined with the relatively mild symptoms of Omicron could mean that the pandemic is soon coming to a close. Dr Jim Baker, an immunologist at the University of Michigan, wrote in blog that the virus is showing similar signs to the 2011 flu pandemic that it will burn out soon.
‘We have been focused on number of infections with COVID-19 because of the very sensitive and accurate diagnostic tests (PCR) we have developed,’ he said.
‘In contrast, as we look at the end of the pandemic, we now need to focus less on infections and more on deaths. That is truly the important marker of a pandemic’s impact and the only comparable measure to the 1918 flu epidemic where there were no diagnostic tests.’
A record of 132,646 Americans are currently hospitalized with Covid, the highest point of the pandemic so far. Despite this recent increase in cases and hospitalizations, deaths remain low, signaling the Omicron variant may not be very severe. Pictured: A New Hampshire nurse in an isolated Covid ward
‘In the 1917 flu pandemic, after the initial burst of infections and deaths, two waves of deaths followed, each one less impactful. This is how pandemics end; two ‘echo’ waves each being less and less significant. It is because in each wave the most susceptible individuals have been killed off as the rest of the population develops immunity. A similar pattern was seen in the 2011 Influenza A pandemic and it has now emerged with COVID-19. This pattern shows the COVID-19 pandemic is burning out.’
Denmark emerged as an early Omicron hotspot. Cases in the Nordic nation reached a record of over 20,000 per day at the start of the year, but dipped back down to 19,000 this week – signaling the variant may have peaked in the country.
Other countries have not been as lucky as Denmark and England, though. In Germany, cases are on the rise to start the year after declining for much of January. The country is averaging 44,000 cases per day, approaching the record of around 57,000 per day set late last year.
France’s rocketing rise in Covid cases continues as well, up to nearly 300,000 per day, up from around 70,000 cases per day only two weeks ago.