The crushing wave of Omicron variant cases may show signs of receding in the United States, but Dr. Anthony S. Fauci has warned that the surge has not yet peaked in some parts of the country and that Americans should not let their guard down.
The highly contagious Omicron does seem to have peaked in the Northeast, parts of the Upper Midwest and other areas where it first arrived, offering a bit of relief to virus-weary Americans. Nationally, new cases and hospital admissions have leveled off in recent days.
“What we would hope,” Dr. Fauci, President Biden’s top medical adviser for the coronavirus, said during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” “is that, as we get into the next weeks to month or so, we’ll see throughout the entire country the level of infection get to below what I call that area of control.”
That does not mean eradicating the virus, Dr. Fauci said. Infections will continue. “They’re there, but they don’t disrupt society,” he said. “That’s the best-case scenario.”
For now, the United States remains in a precarious position, averaging 690,000 daily cases, still far higher than at any other point in the pandemic. Hospitals are overstretched and deaths have risen to about 2,100 a day. Parts of the West, South and Great Plains are still seeing sharp increases.
“There may be a bit more pain and suffering with hospitalizations in those areas of the country that have not been fully vaccinated or have not gotten boosted,” Dr. Fauci said. Hospitals are struggling to keep up after multiple surges and staffing shortages, including in Mississippi, where nearly all of the state’s acute-care hospitals have been pushed to capacity. The National Guard and active-duty U.S. military medics have been deployed to hospitals in several states.
States that are lagging in vaccinations, including Utah, are reporting record levels of cases and hospitalizations.
But Omicron also has yet to peak in some Western states with higher vaccination rates.
Oregon is reporting a 71 percent increase in daily average cases over a two-week period and a 65 percent increase in hospitalizations, according to The Times’s database. This month, Gov. Kate Brown said she would be deploying up to 500 National Guard members to help strained hospitals with the soaring caseload.
California reported a 47 percent increase in daily average cases over the past two weeks, and a 61 percent increase in hospitalizations. Masks continue to be mandated indoors by state officials, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has also called on the National Guard in his state.
Scientists say it remains an open question whether Omicron signified the transition of the coronavirus from a pandemic to a less-threatening endemic virus, or whether future surges or variants would introduce a new round of tumult.
Dr. Fauci advised that remaining ready for the possibility of what he called “the worst-case scenario” would be wise. “I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but we have to be prepared,” he said, describing that situation as, “We get yet again another variant that has characteristics that would be problematic, like a high degree of transmissibility or a high degree of virulence.”
But overall, he said, “Things are looking good. We don’t want to get overconfident, but they look like they’re going in the right direction right now.”
Esha Ray, Kenneth Chang, Mitch Smith, Julie Bosman and Tracey Tully contributed to this report.