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The United States is now averaging more than 500,000 positive COVID-19 tests per day, but experts expect that to decline quickly in the weeks ahead. Neri/Bloomberg via Getty Images
  • The United States is now averaging more than 500,000 new COVID-19 cases per day as the Omicron variant continues to spread rapidly.
  • However, experts say they expect those numbers to drop significantly in the next few weeks as they have done recently in the United Kingdom and South Africa.
  • They say the effects from holiday travel as well as the current high volume of cases will start to ease as early as next week.

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is spreading widely and rapidly throughout the United States, but the current surge in cases could soon peak, experts say.

“Based on recent data from South Africa, London, and elsewhere, I do think we will see Omicron peak in the Northeast region over the next 4 weeks or so,” Dr. Robert C. Bollinger, a professor of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Maryland and founding member of Emocha Health, told Healthline.“ “However, just like previous peaks, I expect some areas of the country to peak a bit later as this tidal wave is moving south and west.”

“Omicron may peak as soon as this week in New York City. Other areas of the country could peak a couple of weeks later,” said Jeffrey Shaman, PhD, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences and director of the Climate and Health Program at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

“Our median projection has 5 million confirmed cases during the worst week with an upper bound of more than 8 million, although the actual number of infections would be much higher,” Shaman said in a newsletter.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States is currently averaging more than 500,000 new COVID-19 cases and 1,000 deaths per day.

Daily cases have risen six-fold since Thanksgiving and quadrupled since Dec. 19.

The Omicron variant now accounts for 95 percent of all new COVID-19 infections in the United States. Omicron was first reported in South Africa in late November 2021 and has rapidly spread to become the dominant strain of COVID-19 disease, first in parts of Europe and now in the United States as well.

Omicron cases have already started to decline in South Africa and the United Kingdom, said Jennifer Horney, PhD, the founding director of the epidemiology program at the University of Delaware.

Horney told Healthline that the United Kingdom’s experience with Omicron may be a better model for what the United States can expect from the current surge, since its vaccination rates are more similar to those in the United States than those in South Africa.

Shaman also pointed out that it’s now summer in South Africa, when disease transmission rates are generally lower because people spend more time outdoors.

“I think it is a little too early to say what the trajectory of Omicron will be in the United States, although I’m hopeful that by the end of January we will be through the worst of the surge,” said Horney.

If the current surge in COVID-19 cases is tied mainly to disease transmission that occurred during the holiday period, the wave could peak in the next 1 or 2 weeks, according to Sean Clouston, PhD, an associate professor in the public health program at Stony Brook University’s Department of Family, Population and Preventive Medicine in New York.

“We could be in the peak right now because there was a lot of socialization around Christmas, holiday shopping, and parties, like last year when we saw a wave and peak in early January,” Clouston told Healthline.

However, if the surge is largely tied to the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, the peak could arrive later, perhaps in late January, Clouston said.

“Given the marked transmissibility of Omicron and what we have seen out of South Africa and the United Kingdom, I anticipate this surge will be relatively swift,” Dr. Katie Passaretti, the chief epidemiologist at Atrium Health, told Healthline. “I feel we should anticipate a peak in late January and start to come back down relatively quickly through February. As always, hospitalizations, and ICU/ventilator stays will lag several weeks after that.”