Many Californians Will Likely Be Infected During Omicron Surge. How Bad Will It Get?

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is now spreading rapidly across California, fueling big upticks in infections across the state. 

At least three California health systems have reported that Omicron appears to account for 50% to 70% of new cases, state health officials said Thursday, and clinical and wastewater data suggest Omicron is now spreading in most parts of California.

However, the full scope of this latest wave remains to be seen. 

Cases are expected to spike, perhaps to unprecedented levels. Some hospitals are likely to again come under stress from a renewed influx of COVID-19 patients.

But for now, officials say they can contend with the surge by doubling down on common-sense safety practices and promoting vaccinations and booster shots, rather than resorting to new lockdown orders.

Los Angeles County provided a glimpse of what may be to come. A day after reporting 6,509 new coronavirus cases — which was more than twice the figure from the day before — county health officials reported an even higher infection total Thursday: 8,633.

“These numbers make it crystal clear that we’re headed into a very challenging time over the holiday,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “If our case numbers continue to increase at a rapid pace over this week and next, we could be looking at case numbers we have never seen before.”

What will the next few weeks look like?

As Omicron is still a relatively new arrival — its presence was first confirmed in California just three weeks ago — there are many unanswered questions as to what its impact will be. 

One thing that seems certain, though, is that the variant can spread rapidly. Already, Omicron now constitutes 73% of the nation’s coronavirus cases, up from 13% the week before, according to federal estimates.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say early forecasts suggest a large surge of infections could be reached by early January, and “the peak daily number of new infections could exceed previous peaks.”

“This rapid increase in the proportion of Omicron circulating around the country is similar to what we’ve seen around the world,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing. “Although this is a reminder of [the] continued threat of COVID-19 variants, this increase in Omicron proportion is what we anticipated and what we have been preparing for.”

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