Coronavirus wave this fall could infect 100 million, administration warns

Authors: Yasmeen Abutaleb, Joel Achenbach May 6, 2022 The Washington Post

The Biden administration is warning the United States could see 100 million coronavirus infections and a potentially significant wave of deaths this fall and winter, driven by new omicron subvariants that have shown a remarkable ability to escape immunity.

The projection, made Friday by a senior administration official during a background briefing as the nation approaches a covid death toll of 1 million, is part of a broader push to boost the nation’s readiness and persuade lawmakers to appropriate billions of dollars to purchase a new tranche of vaccines, tests and therapeutics.

In forecasting 100 million potential infections during a cold-weather wave later this year and early next, the official did not present new data or make a formal projection. Instead, he described the fall and winter wave as a scenario based on a range of outside models of the pandemic. Those projections assume that omicron and its subvariants will continue to dominate community spread, and there will not be a dramatically different strain of the virus, the official said, acknowledging the pandemic’s course could be altered by many factors.

Several experts agreed that a major wave this fall and winter is possible given waning immunity from vaccines and infections, loosened restrictions and the rise of variants better able to escape immune protections.

Many have warned that the return to more relaxed behaviors, from going maskless to participating in crowded indoor social gatherings, would lead to more infections. The seven-day national average of new infections more than doubled from 29,312 on March 30 to nearly 71,000 Friday, a little more than five weeks later.

“What they’re saying seems reasonable — it’s on the pessimistic side of what we projected in the covid-19 scenario modeling run,” said Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health. “It’s always hard to predict the future when it comes to covid, but I think we’re at a point now where it’s even harder than normal. Because there’s so much sensitivity, in terms of these long-term trends, to things we don’t understand exactly about the virus and about [human] behavior,” Lessler said.

Another modeler, epidemiologist Ali Mokdad of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, said in an email Friday that a winter surge is likely. His organization, which has made long-term forecasts despite the many uncertainties, just produced a new forecast that shows a modest bump in cases through the end of May and then a decline until the arrival of winter.

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