Jan 20, 2022 - Health

Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day

Change in reported COVID-19 cases per 100k people in the last two weeks
Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The U.S. Omicron wave may be peaking, but now COVID deaths are climbing as cases continue to soar in most of the country.

The big picture: Omicron's stranglehold in the U.S. started about a month ago. Its death toll — while almost certain to be smaller than previous waves of the pandemic — is only now starting to take hold, and deaths will likely continue to rise for several weeks.

By the numbers: The U.S. is now averaging just under 1,900 deaths per day — a 42% increase over the past two weeks.

  • The Omicron wave is already receding in the places where it first took hold: New cases are slowing down significantly in and around Boston, New York and Washington, D.C.
  • But it hasn't yet run its course in the rest of the country. While cases are declining on the East Coast, they've continued to climb just about everywhere else.
  • Nationwide, the U.S. is averaging almost 760,000 new cases per day — up 30% over the past two weeks.

Where it stands: This phase of the pandemic will probably end relatively soon. The Omicron wave swept through South Africa and the U.K. quickly, and now appears to be following a similar trajectory in the U.S.

  • Omicron is far less deadly than its predecessors. A smaller proportion of infected people become severely ill, and a smaller proportion die from the virus.
  • But skyrocketing cases will still translate into some increase in deaths. Now we're beginning to see that happen. And deaths may continue to rise, trailing consistently behind a surge in cases that's still going on.

The bottom line: This will not last forever, but for now, vulnerable people are still at risk — especially if they're unvaccinated.

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