Good News: Omicron Is Waning. Bad News: It’s Still Really Bad.

Omicron appears to be winding down, but a new variant might be coming up.

A drive-up Covid testing siteHoptocopter/Getty

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The Omicron variant of Covid-19, which has overwhelmed hospitals and set new pandemic case records, is starting to wane in states that saw late surges—a sign that the worst of the highly contagious variant wave may have passed in the United States.

The latest available numbers reveal that Omicron is following a pattern from rapid acceleration to quick drop-off. In South Africa, where the variant was first identified, infections are down 87 percent from a mid-December peak. In the US, Omicron first hit the northeast. According to New York Times data, infections in those states started coming down as quickly as they rose—though new infection rates remain above last winter’s record. Now, the Times reports, rates are finally falling in the last states where Omicron surged:

In Arizona, the seven-day average of daily cases fell from a peak of 20,778 on Monday to 18,208 on Friday, a roughly 12 percent decrease over five days, according to a New York Times database. Cases in Utah have declined 35 percent and in Mississippi 25 percent since peaking on January 19. Cases in North Dakota have fallen 19 percent since a Jan. 22 peak.

The bad news is that hospitals remain overwhelmed. Since Covid-related hospitalizations and deaths lag behind infection rates, the pain this wave will inflict is probably at least a few weeks from dissipating. When it finally ends, the question will be whether there’s a new variant—and just how bad it might be. One contender nicknamed “stealth omicron” has already popped up in Europe. The future remains as uncertain as ever.

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