The COVID-19 variant Omicron could peak in the United States very soon and a decline of surging infections is possible in the very near future, according to a report by The Harvard Gazette.
"I think it's going to be a difficult winter, and the maximal period seems like it's about to unfold over the next few weeks," Jake Lemieux, an infectious diseases specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, was quoted in the report.
The report cited the trend of Omicron in South Africa, saying Harvard experts are cautiously hopeful about a possible decline of the surging COVID-19 variant in the very near future, even as they warn of dramatic case spikes, overloaded hospitals, and slowly rising deaths.
"It's very clear that there's an astonishing number of cases, a moderate number of hospitalizations, and very low deaths," said Dan Barouch, William Bosworth Castle Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
He said that there is initial evidence in animal studies that the fast-spreading variant does indeed cause less severe disease, with infection concentrated in the upper airways and to a lesser extent in the lungs, where it can cause life-threatening pneumonia.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the United States reported a record 1,082,549 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, one of several COVID-19 records that the country has broken in recent days.
"I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that the next variant will necessarily be less pathogenic. That remains to be seen," Barouch said about the odds of a new, less transmittable version, adding that a larger fraction of the United States and global population will eventually gain some level of immunity from both infection and vaccination.
Lemieux said, "We are, it is probably fair to say, engulfed in an Omicron wave right now, and the question is: How high does this wave go, and how severe is its impact going to be on patients, the health care system, and society? We're going to find out."
Despite encouraging signs of low hospitalization and death rates, the outlook for the immediate future remains perilous, with hospitals already operating at capacity and a recent survey of viral particles in Boston-area wastewater showing a massive spike in virus that so outstrips any point of the pandemic, the report said.