Omicron could lead to ‘largest healthcare surge to date,’ UT modelers project

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — “Omicron could lead to the largest healthcare surge to date, unless measures are taken to slow spread.”

That’s the new warning from the UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium. In a report published Thursday, the researchers simulated the spread of the variant in the U.S. in a range of scenarios.

“Many of omicron’s epidemiological characteristics remain uncertain, including its intrinsic transmissibility, ability to evade vaccine-acquired and infection-acquired immunity, and severity,” the report states.

One scenario leading to the largest healthcare surge to date was described as “pessimistic” and “extreme,” in which the omicron variant is as transmissible as the delta variant and more evasive of immunity acquired by vaccines or infection.

In this scenario, projections show a wave of new infections, peaking on Feb. 3, 2022, with cases 2.2 times higher than the January 2021 peak. Hospital admissions would be 1.8 times higher, and deaths would be 1.2 times higher.

Hospitalizations in Texas have been slowly increasing since hitting a post-surge low of 2,610 on Nov. 20. As of Dec. 15, there were 3,134 Texans hospitalized statewide because of COVID-19.

A more optimistic scenario, in which omicron is 50% more transmissible than delta but far less evasive of immunity, the model showed a “significantly milder” surge, peaking on Jan. 18, 202. In this case, cases are projected to be 0.92 times the January 2021 peak, hospitalizations 0.57 times and deaths 0.46 times.

The report also showed the importance of fully-vaccinated people getting a booster dose. The researchers said if 80% of vaccinated people are boosted by March 1, 2022, “we project that reported cases, hospital admissions and deaths would be reduced by 5%, 12% and 13% respectively.” In the most pessimistic scenario, this would equate to 1.3 million fewer cases nationwide, 168,000 fewer hospitalizations and 39,000 fewer deaths between Dec. 1, 2021 and May 1, 2022.

As of Dec. 15, more than 3.8 million people in Texas have received a booster dose. That’s roughly 13% of the state’s population.

‘Great concern’

In a statement reacting to the new projections, a spokesperson for Austin Public Health said, “There is great concern about the implications of the latest projections.” The statement went on to say, “Austin Public Health will be reviewing our staging thresholds in the coming days to ensure our metrics best reflect newly available data. We continue to strongly encourage people to get tested if they feel sick, get vaccinated if they haven’t already and boosted when they’re eligible.”

Austin-Travis County is currently in Stage 3 of its risk-based guidelines and has been since Oct. 12. In addition to daily hospital admissions, APH recently added a new metric for determining which stage to be in — the Community Transmission Rate, as determined by the CDC. The rate looks at the number of new cases reported over the past seven days per 100,000 people.

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