Omicron will push US deaths past 1 million, expert predicts

Omicron, the highly contagious coronavirus variant sweeping across the country, is driving the daily American death toll higher than during last fall’s delta wave, with deaths likely to keep rising for days or even weeks.

The seven-day rolling average for daily new COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. has been climbing since mid-November, reaching 2,267 on Thursday and surpassing a September peak of 2,100 when delta was the dominant variant.

Now omicron is estimated to account for nearly all the virus circulating in the nation. And even though it causes less severe disease for most people, the fact that it is more transmissible means more people are falling ill and dying.

“Omicron will push us over a million deaths,” said Andrew Noymer, a public health professor at the University of California, Irvine. “That will cause a lot of soul searching. There will be a lot of discussion about what we could have done differently, how many of the deaths were preventable.”

Omicron symptoms are often milder, and some infected people show no symptoms, researchers agree. But like the flu, it can be deadly, especially for people who are older, have other health problems or who are unvaccinated.

With more than 878,000 deaths, the United States has the largest COVID-19 toll of any nation.

Scientists and health officials around the world are keeping their eyes on a descendant of the omicron variant that has been found in more than 50 countries, including the United States.

This version of the coronavirus, which scientists call BA.2, is widely considered stealthier than the original version of omicron because particular genetic traits make it somewhat harder to detect. Danish scientists reported this week that preliminary information suggests it may be 1 1/2 times more contagious then the original variant.

Receipt of three doses of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine is associated with protection against delta and omicron compared with being unvaccinated and receipt of two doses, according to a study published online Jan. 21 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.