US omicron peak: Fauci predicts steep drop in cases toward 'end of January'

As the U.S. faces a surge of omicron cases nationwide, Dr. Anthony Fauci said there are signals that the peak could soon be behind us and the country may start to see a significant drop-off in cases toward the end of January.

Fauci, the president’s chief medical advisor, has stressed that much is still uncertain. But given that the variant has proved so wildly contagious, he cautiously predicted that the U.S. omicron wave could soon start to noticeably decline "about three weeks from now, two to three weeks, as we get to the end of January."

"Since we have a large country, and we still have over 30 million people who are eligible to be vaccinated who have not been vaccinated, it might take a little bit longer and it might be drawn out in its decline, as opposed to high up and way down," Fauci told FOX 13 Tampa Bay in an interview recorded Sunday.

"We hope it is the latter, high up and way down, but we’re just going to have to wait and see."

Fauci pointed to data from South Africa, where in the span of about a month the wave crested at record highs and then fell dramatically. He similarly pointed to Britain, where new COVID-19 cases have also dropped after skyrocketing earlier this month, official government data shows

"We’re starting to see that turnaround in the U.K., particularly in London which was the epicenter of their outbreak," Fauci noted.

His projection has been echoed by other scientists following COVID-19’s alarming omicron wave around the world. 

"It’s going to come down as fast as it went up," Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, told the Associated Press this week. 

The university’s health research center runs a highly-influential IHME COVID-19 model, which projects that the number of daily reported cases in the U.S. will top out at 1.2 million by Jan. 19 and will then fall quickly. Mokdad told the outlet this is "simply because everybody who could be infected will be infected." 

The university’s complex model now tracks each variant individually and takes into account waning immunity over time.

Mokdad added that the model shows the true number of new daily infections in the U.S., which includes people who were never tested, has already peaked on Jan. 6 when it hit 6 million.

Predictions that the U.S. may be headed toward a rapid drop in cases come after Fauci and public health officials have expressed that most Americans will likely contract the strain. Janet Woodcock, acting head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, told Congress this week that omicron will infect "most people" — and that the country should instead focus on keeping critical services operating at a normal level. 

"I think it’s hard to process what’s actually happening right now, which is: Most people are going to get COVID, all right?," she said. "What we need to do is make sure the hospitals can still function — transportation, other essential services are not disrupted while this happens."

Fauci was later asked about Woodcock’s remarks and emphasized how COVID-19 will never be eradicated. But with vaccination and booster shots, the risk of hospitalization and death greatly decreases.

"What she was referring to is that virtually everybody is going to wind up getting exposed and likely get infected. But if you’re vaccinated and if you’re boosted, the chances of you getting sick are very, very low," he clarified on Wednesday.

This story was reported from Cincinnati.