The Omicron wave is receding in states where the highly contagious variant arrived later, and some governors say it’s time for pandemic-weary Americans to try to restore a sense of normalcy.
The United States remains in a precarious position, with overwhelmed hospitals and daily deaths above 2,500 and rising. While the number of cases is declining nationally and in some states – including Arizona, Utah, Colorado, North Dakota, Louisiana and Mississippi – where Omicron swept more recently, they remain well higher than in any other period of the pandemic. And the spread of an Omicron subvariant that appears to be even more contagious has led some experts to warn that it could take longer than expected for the wave to subside.
The daily average of cases in the United States remains around 519,000 – more than double the worst statistics of last winter. Hospitalizations, which are lagging behind cases, appear to have peaked nationwide, although they remain higher than last winter’s peak. Deaths, which are further behind, are also at record highs in some states.
In a few states, like Washington and Montana, cases continue to rise. And on Monday, Governor Brad Little of Idaho activated the National Guard in his state to help keep hospitals running when many medical workers are sick.
Despite all this, some heads of state said that while new variants and, inevitably, another outbreak remained a threat, Omicron had brought the country closer to the endemic stage of the virus.
“We’re not going to run this from zero,” Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey, a Democrat, said Sunday on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” program. “We have to learn to live with that.
Mr. Murphy was one of several governors who met with Mr. Biden at the White House on Monday. In far-reaching remarks, Mr. Biden highlighted efforts to limit the impact of the pandemic on education.
“We’re going to try as hell to keep schools open,” he said, as studies have shown “that losing a semester can set a child back a year and a half.”
And at a Monday press conference, White House press secretary Jen Psaki suggested the country had “the tools to get to a point where it’s not disrupting our daily lives.”
Public health experts say the next phase will depend on which variants emerge and whether or not a slow vaccination campaign is accelerated. Herd immunity against the coronavirus, experts say, is unlikely to be achieved.
The spread of an Omicron sub-variant known as BA.2 is another reminder of the unpredictable path the pandemic could take.
So far, BA.2 does not appear to cause more severe disease, and vaccines are just as effective against it as against other forms of Omicron. But it shows signs of spreading more easily.
“This may mean higher peaks of infections in places that have not yet peaked and slower downward trends in places that have already seen an Omicron peak,” said Thomas Peacock, virologist at Imperial College London, to Carl Zimmer of The Times.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief Covid adviser, recently offered words of cautious optimism, saying he believed outbreaks could become much more manageable in the coming months – to a point where “they are there, but they don’t”. not disrupt society.
As Omicron declines, Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, a Republican, said the United States should remain vigilant but move toward treating the virus as endemic. He acknowledged that more variants were inevitable and called on the federal government to help states increase testing capacity and access to treatments.
“That’s where the federal government needs to step in,” he told “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “Let’s take advantage of this descent to prepare for what lies ahead.”
Roni Caryn Rabin, Carl Zimmer and Maggie Astor contributed report.