NEWS ANALYSIS

Has Omicron Peaked in the U.S.?

map of US with covid hot spots

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Key Takeaways

  • COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are declining in the U.S., but deaths are still rising.
  • In some states, cases and hospitalizations are still on the rise.
  • Deaths from COVID-19 in the U.K. peaked on January 25. Since pandemic trends in the U.K. are typically two weeks ahead of the U.S., this suggests deaths in the U.S. may soon decline.

COVID-19 cases in the U.S. appeared to have peaked on January 15, meaning for the nation at large, the tide of the pandemic’s largest wave yet may be receding.

But it’s too soon to say the worst of Omicron is fully behind us. The death rate is still climbing, and in some states, cases are still rising.

Cases and Hospitalizations Fall Nationwide

Through January 31, average weekly new COVID-19 cases had decreased by about 45% from January 15. The peak came a few days later than it did in 2021, when the then-record-setting daily rolling average of 250,000 cases began to drop after January 11.

Hospitalizations follow a similar pattern. The COVID-19 hospitalization rate appears to have peaked on January 15 this year, but is still higher than it ever was in 2021. Many hospitals are operating over capacity; one in 10 Americans currently lives in a county whose hospital beds are over 90% filled, according to the University of Michigan’s COVID-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project.

Most of those hospitalizations are likely among unvaccinated patients; according to the CDC, almost 80% of hospitalized adult COVID-19 patients were unvaccinated as of December 25, 2021.

The patients who are hospitalized, however, may be faring better than in past waves. A preprint study of patients in a southern California health system who had tested positive for COVID-19 found that Omicron infections were about half as likely to send patients to the hospital compared with those caused by the Delta variant. The findings mirror evidence from studies conducted in other countries that Omicron causes more mild cases of COVID-19. And ventilation use among COVID-19 patients is the lowest it has been throughout the pandemic.

Deaths on the Rise

Last year, the U.S.’s seven-day average of new COVID-19 deaths peaked on January 13 and steadily decreased into late February. Today, COVID-19 deaths are still rising, most recently averaging 2,287 new deaths a day on January 31. But that’s still about 800 fewer new deaths than on the same date in 2021.

More mild infections and the widespread availability of vaccines help to explain why the death toll is lower than it was in 2021.

Why are deaths rising when cases and hospitalizations are dropping? Despite recent improvement in the number of new cases and hospitalizations, many of those who became severely ill still are. Many of those hospitalized are at least 70 years old, and may not survive.

Using the U.K. As a Projection 

New COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom reached their highest point on December 30, 2021, approximately two weeks before the U.S. did on January 15.

If the U.K. is a harbinger of what’s to come, deaths may be receding soon. Average new deaths in the U.K. appear to have peaked on January 25. If the U.K. is two weeks ahead of the U.S., then we can expect U.S. COVID deaths to drop around February 8.

What This Means For You

The worst of the Omicron wave may be over or quickly approaching. Hospitalization is more likely to occur in those who are unvaccinated, so receiving a COVID-19 vaccine series and booster is the best way to prevent severe illness.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lewnard JA, Hong VX, Patel MM, Kahn R, Lipsitch M, Tartof SY. Clinical outcomes among patients infected with Omicron (B.1.1.529) SARS-CoV-2 variant in southern California. medRxiv. Preprint posted online January 11, 2021. doi:10.1101/2022.01.11.22269045

By Julia Ingram
Julia Ingram is a news reporter specializing in data analysis and visualization.