The omicron wave is now receding in states where the extremely contagious variant arrived later, and some governors say it’s time pandemic-weary Americans try to restore a sense of normalcy and learn to live with the virus.
The United States remains in a precarious position as hospitals are overwhelmed and daily deaths top 2,500 and counting. Case numbers are now declining in some inland states, including Arizona, Utah, Colorado, North Dakota, Louisiana and Mississippi, where Omicron has come through more recently, and while new cases are also declining statewide, they remain far higher than any other period of the year Pandemic. And the spread of an Omicron subvariant that appears to be even more contagious has warned some experts that it could be longer than expected for the winter wave to subside.
The daily average of US cases remains at about 519,000 a day – more than double last winter’s worst stats. Hospitalizations, which lag behind cases, appear to have peaked nationwide, although they are still higher than last winter’s peak. Deaths lagging behind are also at record levels in some states.
Cases are still rising in some states like Washington and Montana.
Some world leaders said Sunday that Omicron has brought the country closer to the endemic stage of the virus, although more variants and inevitably another surge remain a threat.
“We’re not going to zero this out,” New Jersey Gov. Philip D. Murphy, a Democrat, told Chuck Todd on NBC News‘ “Meet the Press” Sunday. “We have to learn to live with it.”
Public health experts say the next phase of the virus in the United States will depend on which variants emerge and whether a sluggish vaccination campaign picks up steam. According to experts, herd immunity against the corona virus is unlikely.
The spread of an Omicron subvariant is another reminder of the unpredictable path the pandemic could take next.
Scientists are warning that the new member of the omicron virus family, known as BA.2, could delay the omicron surge in much of the world. So far, BA.2 does not appear to cause more severe disease, and vaccines are as effective against it as against other forms of Omicron. But BA.2 is showing signs of spreading more easily.
“This may mean higher peak infections in places that have not yet peaked, and a slowing of downtrends in places that have already seen peak levels of omicron,” Thomas Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, told The Times’ Carl Zimmer .
dr Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s top Covid adviser, recently expressed cautious optimism, saying he believes outbreaks could become much more manageable in the coming months — to a point where “they’re there, but not”. We must not disturb society.”
With Omicron declining, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said the United States should move toward treating the virus as if it were endemic but remaining vigilant. He acknowledged that more variants were inevitable and called on the federal government to help states increase testing capacity and access to treatments.
“This is where the federal government has to start,” he said on “Meet the Press”. “Let’s use this crash to be prepared for what’s around the corner.”
Roni Caryn Rabin, Karl Zimmer and Maggie Astor contributed to this report.