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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

This winter probably won't bring another crushing COVID wave, experts say.

Why it matters: Last winter was the deadliest phase of the pandemic, and many Americans are braced for cold weather to once again usher in a surge in cases and deaths. But there are good reasons to think this year won't be nearly as bad.

What they're saying: "I sort of think we're in a version of what our reality is going to be for the foreseeable future," Bob Wachter, chairman of the University of California, San Francisco Department of Medicine, told Axios.

  • "Maybe it gets 10 or 20% better, maybe it gets 10 or 20% worse. But I can't see it getting 90% better or 90% worse," he said.

State of play: A critical mass of Americans have been vaccinated — some even boosted — or have some natural immunity after having the illness. And vaccines for kids are expected soon.

  • That should protect against the sort of wide resurgences of severe illness the U.S. experienced last winter, said Justin Lessler, who helps run the University of North Carolina's COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub. Its models predict a steady drop in COVID cases through March.
  • It's possible that an another new variant will emerge, but "even if we do see some resurgences due to a more transmissible variant or people relaxing in their behaviors, I'd be very surprised if we saw surges to the level of last winter," Lessler said.

But, but, but: That's not to say we're out of the woods yet. We'll still see localized outbreaks and will have to continue taking precautions throughout the winter.

  • NIAID director Anthony Fauci told CBS' "Face the Nation"  last weekend it's "just too soon to tell" whether holiday gatherings should still be limited again this year.
  • While vaccines are expected to be approved for kids soon, there are still questions about how many parents will want to get their kids vaccinated. They may not be rolled out in time to get fully vaccinated before the holidays.

What we're watching: As Lessler points out, even the most optimistic models "aren't projecting us to getting back to levels we were seeing in early July until mid-March and that's a long time off."

  • Experts are also warning about the dual threat of increased risk for a bad flu season mixed with the ongoing COVID pandemic.

The bottom line: "I think as we enter the holidays and think about how to protect our families, it's important to remember we still have this long road ahead of us," Lessler said.

Go deeper

Jan 15, 2022 - Health

Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron

Three COVID-19 testing companies place testing locations outside Grand Central Terminal on Jan. 14 in New York City. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Experts are warning that subsequent COVID-19 variants are likely to come after Omicron, AP reports.

Why it matters: The warnings come as there's no guarantee that subsequent variants "will cause milder illness or that existing vaccines will work against them," underscoring the need for widespread vaccination, AP writes.

Updated 5 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Contact tracing fizzles across America — New clues emerge on long COVID — Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Virginia AG says public colleges can't mandate COVID vaccines —Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — White House: 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 rapid tests.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker
3 hours ago - World

Biden will move U.S. troops to Eastern Europe "in the near term"

President Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Jan. 28. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said on Friday he plans to move U.S. troops to Eastern European and NATO countries “in the near term.”

Driving the news: “Not too many” U.S. troops, Biden added in remarks to reporters at Joint Base Andrew upon returning from a trip to Pennsylvania.