AUSTIN (KXAN) — The University of Texas at Austin COVID-19 modeling consortium has run updated omicron projections which show the United States will likely hit its peak number of cases in the next few days, but that we could see a healthcare surge well beyond what we’ve seen previously in the pandemic.
The consortium put out 16 projections last month that showed how the U.S. might fare against the omicron variant, but at the time much of the information about omicrons characteristics were unknown. Now, the consortium has rerun those projections as more data has been collected.
According to researchers at UT, studies overall suggest omicron is more transmissible, more immune evasive and less severe than delta. That was the lens researchers were looking through with the new projections.
As for what they found, there’s good news and there’s bad news.
The good news: Even in the most pessimistic projection, researchers believe COVID-19 cases will peak within the next week. Some models showed the peak could even happen within the next few days.
Surges and peaks in case numbers typically supersede trends in hospitalizations and deaths, which could peak several weeks after case numbers do. Projections showed case numbers might go down as dramatically as they spiked.
“The model is predicting that after this wave subsides then the numbers of cases will be extremely low because there will be some sort of immunity in the population,” Anass Bouchnita from the COVID-19 modeling consortium said. He noted that could change if another variant forms.
The bad news: Of those updated projections, the most pessimistic — which assumes omicron is as transmissible as delta but significantly more evasive of immunity and vaccines — shows we will experience the largest healthcare surge to date.
In that projection, cases and hospitalizations are expected to be around three times what we saw in the January 2021 peak and deaths are projected at slightly above what we saw in January.
“If we look at hospitalizations…if the current trend continues as it is now than probably we will saturate and exceed hospital capacity,” Bouchnita said of Texas hospital data. “It really boils down to our behavior.”
In the most optimistic scenario — where omicron is around half as transmissible as delta, less severe and only slightly more evasive — projections still show cases will be more than three times what we’ve seen in previous peaks, hospitalizations slightly higher than previous peaks and deaths being about half of what we saw in the January surge last year.
According to Texas Health and Human Services data, 220 people died of COVID-19 in Travis County in the month of January in 2021. That was shortly after vaccines were approved for use, but before they were widely available to the public.