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  • Some areas of the United States are beginning to see a decline in coronavirus cases, but the country is still not through the worst of the Omicron wave.
  • The United States is still averaging over 700,000 new daily cases, according to data tracked bythe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • In other parts of the country, some states are seeing an increasing number of cases, including Wisconsin, South Carolina, Utah, and North Dakota. Cases are declining in other states, with some exceeding their waves.

The wave of Omicron cases appears to have peaked in the northeastern United States and is showing signs of beginning its descent in the midwestern and western parts of the country.

But the onslaught of coronavirus cases over the past month has left a record number of COVID-19 patients in its wake, further straining hospitals that are understaffed and nearing ICU capacity.

Public health experts warn that even if the country is starting to turn a corner on Omicron, the number of cases remains extremely high — with many states far exceeding last winter’s wave.

As a result, the long descent down the other side of the Omicron hill — even if it happens quickly — will bring a significant number of cases with additional hospitalizations and deaths.

The United States is averaging over 700,000 new daily cases, according to data tracked bythe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But this 7-day average includes the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday when many states did not release new data.

In addition, COVID-19 deaths now exceed 1,700 a day, up 43 percent over the past 2 weeks — hospitalizations related to COVID-19 stand at over 158,000.

Daily cases peaked Jan. 10–11 in the Northeast, according to TheNew York Times database. Many Northeastern states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, are riding the downward slope of the wave.

However, New Hampshire is still seeing rising cases, and Maine, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont have just started their descent.

In addition, many states in the country have a long way to go before they reach pre-Omicron case levels — Rhode Island’s peak this winter was 667 percent higher than a year ago.

Some states are seeing an increasing number of cases in other parts of the country, including Wisconsin, South Carolina, Utah, and North Dakota. Cases are declining in other states, with some places further ahead in their wave.

Overall, the United States appears to be just past the peak in cases. However, with some states continuing to climb, a precise drop-off for the country may not occur right away.

Spencer Fox, PhD, associate director of the UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium in Austin, Texas, said the drop in overall cases that is just beginning fits with his group’s January COVID-19 projections.

“We’re seeing right now that cases appear to be peaking in the country — or at least the early signs of that,” he said, “which is great news.”

However, he said a lot more cases will still happen as the country comes out of the wave.

“Just because cases have peaked, it doesn’t mean we’re through this,” he said. “We’re actually still in the midst of it, and it’s likely that we’ll see just as many cases on the way down.”

While many will breathe a sigh of relief at the thought of moving past the Omicron peak, the precarious situation for hospitals will not change any time soon.

Understaffed hospitals are inundated with COVID-19 patients when many healthcare workers are out with a coronavirus infection, and others have quit due to the pressure of the pandemic.

At the same time, intensive care units in the country are 83 percent full, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. One-third of ICU beds are in use for COVID-19 patients.

In Oklahoma, four hospitals issued a statement saying they had no ICU beds. Newsweek reports that, as a result, dozens of critical care patients in the state are waiting for a bed.

Fox said the peak of hospital admissions would likely come a week or two after the peak in cases.

“We’re seeing signs of slowdowns in hospitalizations nationwide,” he said, “but it’s a little too soon to know for certain.”

As with cases, hospitalization rates will change differently across the country.

Dr. Charles Bailey, medical director for infection prevention at Providence Mission Hospital and Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange County, California, said the impact of the current wave on hospitals will depend on several factors.

This includes the number of cases occurring at the local level, what fraction of people showing up at the hospital need to be admitted, and the strain of the spike in patients on hospital staffing.

There are signs that, in terms of deaths, Omicron waves worldwide are less severe than earlier waves such as those driven by Delta.

It’s not clear, though, if this is because Omicron is inherently less dangerous or because so many people had immunity against severe illness due to vaccination or prior infection.

Fox said it could take a while before we know the actual severity of the Omicron wave in the United States.

“Even though hospital admissions are starting to look like they’re peaking, mortality isn’t likely to peak for another 2 to 3 weeks, maybe 4,” he said.

“So it’s too soon to know how high [the number of deaths] will go. But I think we’re in store for some significant mortality during and after this wave,” Fox said.

With no area of the country entirely through its Omicron wave, experts say it’s too soon to let down our guard.

“People still need to be wearing masks and taking other precautions to limit the spread of the coronavirus,” said Bailey.

These precautions will help maintain hospital capacity — for COVID-19 patients and those with other medical conditions — and protect people who are immunocompromised or too young to be vaccinated.

Fox agrees: “It makes a lot of sense for people to continue masking in high risk indoor situations,” he said, “to protect themselves and the other people in their community.”