Though considered milder than other coronavirus variants, omicron has infected so many people that it has driven the number of daily deaths beyond where it was last spring, before vaccines were widely available, according to Washington Post data.
Omicron has been particularly lethal to people over 75, the unvaccinated and the medically vulnerable, according to doctors and public health officials. The soaring death toll also illustrates why experts pleaded with the public to beware of the highly contagious variant even though it is less virulent than others.
“That feels quite jarring to people who may have assumed omicron is generally on a per-case level less severe and given the fact we have vaccinated at least some portion of the country,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Even if on a per-case basis fewer people develop severe illness and die, when you apply a small percentage to a very large number, you get a substantial number.”
What to know about the omicron variant of the coronavirus
Yet the seven-day average of deaths during the omicron surge has reached 2,600 in recent days, climbing past the late September peak of about 2,000 average daily fatalities during the surge of the more dangerous delta variant, according to Post tracking. The ranks of hospitalized patients with covid-19 reached record highs in January. Coronavirus deaths lag hospitalizations.
More than 900,000 Americans have died of covid-19.
The latest victims tend to be older, according to a Post review of federal data. Nearly half of the deaths in January 2022 were among those 75 and older, compared to about a third in September.
Experts theorized hospitalizations and deaths during the delta surge skewed younger because of high rates of vaccination among senior citizens and the delta variant appearing to cause particularly severe illness among middle-aged adults compared to earlier surges. Now the age distribution of deaths resembles the deadliest stage of the pandemic last winter, when more than 3,000 were dying a day.
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Jason Salemi, an epidemiologist at the University of South Florida College of Public Health, said Florida has seen similar age trends, with seniors making up about 85 percent of deaths last winter, about 60 percent during the delta surge and back to about 80 percent in the omicron surge. He suspects factors include seniors who were recently vaccinated during the delta surge but did not get boosters ahead of omicron and higher raw numbers of seniors infected in the latest wave.