As the omicron variant of the coronavirus continues to spread, sending numbers of daily cases and hospitalizations soaring this month, experts believe the winter surge could be heading toward its peak in some states.
In Connecticut, doctors at the two largest health care systems say they believe the latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic may be peaking in the state.
While Thursday data from Gov. Ned Lamont's office showed COVID-related deaths up from the previous week, Connecticut also saw hospitalizations fall by 22 from Wednesday.
"I think if you take a 1,000-foot overview, you’re starting to see again a decrease in the rate of rise and that’s very important," Dr. Ulysses Wu, the chief of infectious disease at Hartford HealthCare, said. "So, if you look at it like we’re riding a roller coaster, we’re maybe nearing the top at this point, for at least this curve at this point."
"Every subsequent wave since then, we’ve seen a much gentler decline and a larger shoulder or even plateau," Dr. Thomas Balcezak, the chief medical officer at Yale-New Haven Health, said Wednesday. "I think what we will see with this in the coming five or six days is we’ll begin to see an ease-up of total number of patients in hospital, but it will be a slow decline over the next four to six weeks."
However, Balcezak warned that while medical professionals – those who have not yet been infected, and some who are – are better at taking care of intensive care unit (ICU) patients and those on ventilators, "we still need to keep our guard up."
The Washington Post reported Thursday that experts in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia said COVID-19 may be peaking there.
"There’s hope, as a region, that we’re nearing the apex of this wave," University of Virginia professor Costi Sifri, who serves as U-Va.’s director of hospital epidemiology, told the paper.
The publication noted that omicron "appears to have slowed" in East Coast cities hit early by the variant, like New York and Boston.
New York data showed a drop in hospitalizations on Thursday, with 219 fewer cases reported than the day before.
Nearly 17% of New Yorkers are still testing positive and the number of patients in the ICU have risen.
"Even as the rate of new infections continues to move in a promising direction, too many New Yorkers are getting sick, being hospitalized or tragically losing their lives -- we must remain vigilant in our fight against the virus," Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement. "We can't afford to reverse the progress we've made fighting this winter surge. Let's continue to use the tools at our disposal to stop the spread and keep our loves ones safe and healthy: Vaccines, boosters, masks and best practices like washing your hands and staying home if you're sick."
While the average number of new cases in New York City has declined slightly in recent days, Mayor Eric Adams is weighing allowing the nation's largest school district to return to some form of virtual instruction.
More than 100 schools reported attendance of less than 60% and more than 50 reported less than half of fall students attending class on Wednesday.
While declining hospitalizations are a positive trend, and more Americans are getting "up to date" with their COVID-19 vaccines, the future of this pandemic wave remains uncertain.
On Tuesday, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock told Congress that omicron will infect "most people."
Responding to a reporter at a White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing on Wednesday, White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said the Woodcock was talking about data that exhibited the "extraordinary effect and dichotomy between people who get omicron, who get vaccinated and boosted, how well they are protected against hospitalization and death."
Fauci highlighted that preliminary studies have shown the variant of concern to be "less severe, particularly in those who are vaccinated and boosted."
"If we’re going to look ahead at what happens when this peaks and it ultimately goes down — as I’ve said on previous pressers here from the White House: that we’re not going to eradicate this; we’ve only done that with smallpox. We’re not going to eliminate that; that only happens with massive vaccination programs like we did with measles and with vaccines. But, we ultimately will control it," he continued.
"If you control it in a way it’s at a such a low level, and people are vaccinated and boosted, sooner or later, as we begin to live with it, what she was referring to is that virtually everybody is going to wind up getting exposed and likely get infected. But, if you’re vaccinated and if you’re boosted, the chances of you getting sick are very, very low. That’s what she was referring to," he said.
A model from the University of Washington in Seattle previously projected that the number of daily reported cases in the U.S. would crest by Jan. 19, before falling sharply.
New COVID-19 case numbers in the U.S. reached a record 1.48 million last week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.