Covid-19 cases are hitting record levels amid omicron's surge, and two new models—one from the Covid-19 Scenario Modeling Hub and one from Jeffrey Shaman, an infectious disease modeler and epidemiologist at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University—suggest that cases will continue to climb and likely peak around the end of January.
The Covid-19 Scenario Modeling Hub, whose researchers advise CDC, combined eight models from a variety of institutions, including Johns Hopkins University and the University of Notre Dame.
The model projects various scenarios, some more optimistic than others. However, each scenario projected omicron's surge "to be sharp and fast," with the majority of models suggesting Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations will peak at the end of January.
During the modeling period, from Dec. 19, 2021, to March 12, researchers project the United States will see between 391,000 and 2.04 million cumulative hospitalizations, as well as 44,000 to 298,000 deaths. The models also project that case, hospitalization, and death rates will slow through mid-March—but may remain higher than the lowest levels seen in June 2021.
However, the researchers cautioned that there is a large amount of uncertainty about omicron that could significantly alter projections.
"Even the best models of emerging infections struggle to give accurate forecasts at time scales greater than three-four weeks due to unpredictable drivers such as a changing policy environment, behavior change, the development of new control measures, and stochastic events," the researchers said. "However, policy decisions around the course of emerging infections often require projections in the time frame of months. The goal of long-term projections is to compare outbreak trajectories under different scenarios, as opposed to offering a specific, unconditional estimate of what 'will' happen."
Meanwhile, Shaman's model projects the United States will see more Covid-19 cases in January than it has in any other month during the pandemic, but "a smaller fraction of those cases will require hospitalization," Shaman wrote in the New York Times.
Shaman's projections suggest Covid-19 cases will surge quickly and peak during the first one to three weeks of January, with a "middle-of-the-cone" projection of five million cases during the worst weeks. Projections also varied by location, Shaman wrote, with New York City expected to peak during the first week of January and other locations peaking later.
In addition, Shaman wrote that it will be key to pay attention to what omicron's surge looks like in other countries. In South Africa, for example, omicron cases rose and fell rapidly. If Britain, which has similar demographics to the United States, sees a similar pattern, "that may bode well for the United States," Shaman wrote.
As for what the pandemic will look like in the future, Shaman said that will depend on how often new variants of the coronavirus arise.
"If new variants arise roughly twice per year, for example, then we should expect multiple outbreaks each year, even in the summer. If such variants emerge less frequently, then outbreaks might occur annually or even less frequently," Shaman wrote. "The severity of these outbreaks will depend on the characteristics of those new variants and whether prior infections, vaccination, and new drugs can keep people at a lower risk of severe disease." (Bean, Becker's Hospital Review, 1/5; Shaman, New York Times, 1/6)
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