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UT researchers predict the pandemic surge driven by the omicron variant will peak in Texas by mid-January

COVID19 OMICRON TESTING
CON CHRONIS/AAPIMAGE
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Reuters Connect
A man is seen getting a swab at a COVID-19 pop up drive through site on December 15, 2021.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin say the surge in COVID-19 cases, driven by the highly contagious omicron variant, is ramping up across the U.S. and will likely peak in the first few weeks of January.

“Probably the situation in Texas will be more disturbing,” said Anass Bouchnita, a postdoctoral researcher working with UT Austin’s COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.

“We've seen a rise by about 113% in reported cases over the last 14 days [in Texas], which is about four to five times the rise that we've had on a national level," Bouchnita explained, citing recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Texas is also poised for a sharper rise in cases, he said, due to the state’s lower coronavirus vaccination rate. According to the CDC, nearly 62% of the U.S. population is considered fully vaccinated, compared to about 56% of all Texans.

The seven-day average for confirmed cases in Texas has more than tripled since falling below 2,000 in late November to nearly 7,000 this week, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The increase in hospitalizations has been fairly small since cases began climbing, said Bouchnita, “but we know there is always a delay between the rise in cases and the rise in hospitalizations.”

UT Austin’s COVID-19 Modeling Consortium predicts Texas hospitals will see a surge in patients shortly after the New Year’s holiday weekend.

Last week, the consortium published an analysis on the potential impacts of the omicron variant spread through the U.S. population. The research predicted the peak in cases would come in late January or early February, but Bouchnita said more data made available since then has shortened the timeline.

“Now given the recent data we have from the CDC, which show that prevalence of the omicron variant increased by about six-fold in one week in the U.S., which is really scary and disturbing, we expect then to see the peak … probably in the first weeks of January,” said Bouchnita.

Public health officials are urging the public to use extreme caution over the holiday season by avoiding crowded spaces, wearing masks, and getting vaccinated.

“The chances of getting infected in the next two weeks will be extremely high,” said Bouchnita.

Joseph Leahy anchors morning newscasts for NPR's statewide public radio collaborative, The Texas Newsroom. He began his career in broadcast journalism as a reporter for St. Louis Public Radio in 2011. The following year, he helped launch Delaware's first NPR station, WDDE, as an afternoon newscaster and host. Leahy returned to St. Louis in 2013 to anchor local newscasts during All Things Considered and produce news on local and regional issues. In 2016, he took on a similar role as the local Morning Edition newscaster at KUT in Austin, before moving over to the Texas Newsroom.