Covid cases are on the rise once again in the United States, and top officials are warning that the virus is not going anywhere soon – with most-recent projections showing it could cause up to 100 million new infections during the latter stages of 2022.
A senior official in the Biden administration told CNN that the White House is currently projecting around 100 million infections of the virus to occur during the upcoming fall and winter months – a time of the year where new case records have been set during both years of the pandemic.
For comparison, according to Johns Hopkins University data, around 40 million Covid cases were reported in America from September 1 to February 28. While this is likely a severe undercount because of the highly infectious, yet mild, nature of the Omicron variant, it means the White House believes case figures could reach even further heights this year when compared to last.
Experts have long speculated that the next major surge of the virus would occur during the cold weather months of fall and winter, and that America would dodge the type of summer surge that struck in both 2020 and 2021, because much of the population already has significant immunity to the virus due to the COVID-19 vaccines and previous infections during the record-breaking winter Omicron surge.
Cases are starting to rise this spring, though, jumping 25 percent over the past week to 72,899 per day. Deaths have not kept pace with cases during the Omicron period of the pandemic, though, and the country is currently recording 551 Covid deaths every day, according to most recent data from Hopkins.
The White House projections assume that there are no vaccine mitigation measures – like more lockdowns or mask mandates – put in place between now and then, no new variants that significantly change the complexion of the pandemic, or that the administration does not receive any new funding to keep some virus programs in place, CNN reports.
President Biden has pushed Congress to approve more funding to allow the federal government to continue to purchase tests, therapeutics and continue other virus surveillance and prevention measures into the future. A massive $22.5 billion relief proposal suggested by the White House was stripped from a spending package.
Many in Congress, and in the overall American population, are ready to move beyond the pandemic, though. Instead, there is clamoring to use the funds elsewhere and not in Covid prevention.
As a result, some programs instituted by federal and state officials during the pandemic have been rolled back. Covid treatment in hospitals is no longer covered by the government. Free testing has been rolled back in much of the country as well.
The biggest cut-back has been in data reporting, as many states have transitioned from reporting cases at least four or five times a week – if not daily – into only revealing numbers once a week. BNO News reports that Washington D.C. has not reported cases in nearly two weeks, as of Monday.
Experts have previously warned against these types of cuts, saying that it would lead to Americans ‘flying blind’ into the next stages of the pandemic.
‘Testing has always been a cornerstone of our pandemic response. Without this surveillance data, we are flying blind and are almost certainly going to repeat mistakes of the past,’ Dr John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston University, told ABC in March.
‘When we close testing sites, we not only put individuals, their contacts and their communities at risk, we undermine critical public health infrastructure.’
The contraction of Covid data reporting in America also comes as new threats being to arise from the pandemic. The BA 2.12.1 strain – a sub-lineage of the BA.2 ‘stealth’ variant, which is in itself a sub-variant of Omicron – is making grounds in the U.S.
According to most recent data revealed last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the strain now makes up 36.5 percent of sequenced cases in the U.S.
It has erupted in the New York and New Jersey region in particular, making up 62 percent of cases and causing both states to experience a sharp increase in cases over the past two weeks.
The original version of BA.2 remains dominant, making up 62 percent of cases, the CDC reports. The original BA.1 strain of Omicron – which caused a massive surge only months ago – now only makes up one percent of cases.
The BA 2.12.1 variant now makes up 36.5% of sequenced cases, the CDC reports, with the strain becoming dominant in New York and New Jersey. The BA.2 ‘stealth’ variant remains dominant, making up 62% of total U.S. cases
There are also growing concerns about the BA.4 and BA.5, which are now making ground in South Africa, causing another surge in the nation. The country was also the first to suffer from the original version of Omicron in late November.
Last month, the World Health Organization announced that it is officially tracking the two strains of the virus as potential concerns.
A pre-print study out of South Africa also found that the two variants may have the ability to evade immunity to the virus provided by previous infection.
That could be a grave concern for officials, as the massive spread of Omicron during the winter months – giving a vast portion of Americans immunity to the virus in the process – will no longer protect people going forward, opening the door for yet another large surge.
The CNN report did not specify whether the Biden Administration believes the massive surge of Winter cases will be a result of BA.2, BA.4, BA.5 or another strain it expects to emerge.