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140M new COVID-19 infections possible in first two months of new year, experts say

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The U.S. may see as many as 140 million new COVID-19 infections in the first two months of 2022, according to new modeling data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine.

After revising their modeling data to include updated information about the omicron variant, researchers found that the U.S. may reach about 140 million new infections between Jan. 1 and March 1, 2022, with a peak of 2.8 million daily new infections in late January. 

“We are expecting an enormous surge in infections … so, an enormous spread of omicron,” IHME director Dr. Chris Murray said Wednesday, according to USA Today. “Total infections in the U.S. we forecast are going from about 40% of the U.S. having been infected so far, to having in the next 2 to 3 months, 60% of the U.S. getting infected with omicron.”

Murray noted that more than 90 percent of those infected with omicron might never show symptoms, leading researchers to predict that only about 400,000 cases may be reported.

As of Thursday, the U.S. has about 51.6 million confirmed cases since the pandemic began, according to the latest Johns Hopkins data.

While the latest strain is likely to lead to soaring infections due to its high transmissibility, it is also expected to be less severe than previous variants. 

“In the past, we roughly thought that COVID was 10 times worse than flu and now we have a variant that is probably at least 10 times less severe,” Murray said, according to the news outlet. “So, omicron will probably … be less severe than flu but much more transmissible.”

However, Julie Swann, a professor at North Carolina State University who studies pandemic modeling and health systems, assured the public that the predictions are based on early data and information.

“Sure, this [is] a potential outcome,” she said, according to USA Today. “How certain am I that this is the outcome? Not certain at all.”

Models of world data project about 3 billion new infections in January and February, with a peak in late January. 

Tags COVID-19 Pandemic University of Washington Vaccines

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