In-Depth: COVID-19 forecast predicts California just hit its peak of omicron cases

COVID-19 test
Posted at 5:42 PM, Jan 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-19 21:17:52-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – A COVID-19 forecast used by the White House predicts that daily omicron cases in California reached their peak Wednesday and will begin to decline.

An estimated 129,000 Californians will test positive Wednesday alone, the most of any day of the pandemic, according to the latest projection by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

The forecast predicts that more than half of all Americans will be infected by omicron between December and mid-February. The stunning figure also means the virus has a rapidly dwindling number of new hosts.

“It’s running out of people to infect, and it will be coming down as fast as it went up,” said Dr. Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metric science at IHME.

The model draws on data from Europe and South Africa, which saw a steep rise in omicron cases for one month before a steep decline.

That one-month cycle has already played out in places like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Florida, where cases are beginning to recede.

States hit first by omicron have begun to peak first, Dr. Mokdad said.

In San Diego County, wastewater sampling backs up IHME’s prediction, showing fewer viral particles this week than last week. Sampling in parts of the Bay Area has also shown less virus over the last 10 days.

Even though cases may have crested, there are still many more infections ahead. The IHME forecast predicts California will record at least 82,000 cases per day through the end of January.

Hospitalizations will continue to rise for several more days but deaths will peak far below last winter’s delta surge, Dr. Mokdad said.

In fact, the IHME team predicts omicron will cause about the same number of deaths as a bad flu season, similar to the one in 2017-18.

“When you put it all together, omicron is 95 to 99 percent less severe than delta or previous variants. Less severe than the variant that started in Wuhan. And that’s why we’re saying it’s similar to flu,” Dr. Mokdad said. “However, because it’s infecting so many people in a short time period, it’s overwhelming our hospitals.”

The forecast predicts peak hospital use in California on Jan. 28 at record levels, with about 29,500 hospital beds needed.

But by spring, the model predicts the landscape will be entirely different.

“Omicron will end the pandemic of COVID-19. It will not end COVID-19, but it will end the pandemic,” Mokdad said.

A small number of COVID-19 will persist, but once the omicron surge ends, so will the need for masks and isolation, he predicted, citing the level of immunity from vaccines and infections combined with improved antiviral treatments.

The forecast predicts that day will come around March.