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.”
The average daily death toll is now at the same level as last February, when the country was slowly coming off its all-time high of 3,300 a day.
More Americans are taking precautionary measures against the virus than before the omicron surge, according to an AP-NORC poll this week. But many people, fatigued by crisis, are returning to some level of normality with hopes that vaccinations or prior infections will protect them.
Omicron symptoms are often milder, and some infected people show none, researchers agree. But like the flu, it can be deadly, especially for people who are older, have other health problems or who are unvaccinated.
“Importantly, ‘milder’ does not mean ‘mild,’” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said this week during a White House briefing.