Potential Covid surge in fall and winter could lead to 100m infections, officials warn

A Biden administration official warned Friday that there could be 100m Covid-19 infections this fall and winter, potentially spurring a surge in hospitalizations and deaths. The White House is preparing backup plans for providing vaccines to US residents if lawmakers refuse to provide more funds for coronavirus response efforts, the New York Times reported.

The White House has ramped up efforts to boost the country’s preparedness and urge Congress to allocate billions to buy additional vaccines, therapeutics and tests, but additional emergency funding is uncertain. Biden has requested $22.5bn for Covid-19; Republicans have pushed for just $10bn, however, and removed $5bn in international coronavirus assistance from this request, the Times said.

The US coronavirus death toll is expected to reach 1m this week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said last week that 60% of US residents have been infected with Covid-19, the Washington Post reported.

The official’s dire projection was based on several models, not new data, and was not a formal prediction. These models operate with the premise that Omicron and its sub-variants will keep driving community transmission – and that a significantly different strain will not emerge, according to the Washington Post.

This prediction was also made with the assumption that there will not be additional federal aid, the Times reported. The model also assumed that many vaccinated people, and persons who were previously infected, would get Covid-19 again.

Several public health experts say that a dramatic wave during cold-weather months is possible, as immunity from vaccines declines over time. This drop in immunity comes amid variants that are more capable of evading immunity – and as officials continue to relax public health restrictions, the Post said.

The officials projected that the surge would start in the south – where vaccination and booster rates lag – as more people congregate indoors. Authorities fear the uptick will tear through the supply of tests and anti-viral treatments, leaving the US ill-prepared to combat the fall and winter uptick, the Post said.

On Friday, the seven-day US average of new infections totaled almost 71,000 – more than twice the 29,312 weekly average just five weeks ago. Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina’s school of global public health, told the Post: “What they’re saying seems reasonable – it’s on the pessimistic side of what we projected in the Covid-19 scenario modeling run.”

“It’s always hard to predict the future when it comes to Covid, but I think we’re at a point now where it’s even harder than normal,” Lessler continued. “Because there’s so much sensitivity, in terms of these long-term trends, to things we don’t understand exactly about the virus and about [human] behavior.”