About 100 million Americans could get infected with the coronavirus this fall and winter, affecting about a third of the U.S. population, according to The New York Times.
The massive number of infections could lead to major surges in hospitalizations and deaths as well, White House officials said Friday.
The Biden administration’s projections for later this year are part of a pitch to lawmakers for additional coronavirus funding. Earlier this year, the White House asked Congress for $22.5 billion more in COVID-19 relief and preparedness funds, which would go toward tests, therapeutic treatments, and vaccines.
The funding bill has been stalled, however, and future funding seems uncertain, the newspaper reported. Republicans have pushed for just $10 billion in funding and removed $5 billion in international COVID-19 assistance from the Biden administration’s request.
In response, the White House is now preparing backup plans to provide vaccines to the most vulnerable Americans if lawmakers don’t approve more funds, the newspaper reported. The projected 100 million infections could also deplete the nation’s supply of tests and antiviral treatments, officials said.
Officials noted that the U.S. COVID-19 death toll is expected to pass 1 million this week, according to The Washington Post. About 60% of U.S. residents have been infected with COVID-19, they said, with many stemming from recent Omicron variant and subvariant waves.
The 100 million infections slated to come this fall and winter will likely be due to new Omicron subvariants that can escape immunity, officials said. The projection is based on a range of models that assume the Omicron subvariants — not a new or dramatically different coronavirus variant — will continue to drive infections.
The predictions also assume that there won’t be additional federal aid, the newspaper reported, and that many vaccinated and previously infected people will get COVID-19 again.
The surge will likely begin in the South, where vaccination and booster rates are lower, White House officials said. The uptick will then spread throughout the country as people move back indoors to gather in the fall.
The U.S. is now reporting more than 70,000 daily infections, according to the data tracker from The New York Times, marking a 52% jump from two weeks ago, and more than twice the daily average of 30,000 infections about a month ago.
Public health officials said the White House’s prediction could be possible due to waning immunity from vaccines and previous infections, looser safety protocols, and more variants that seem to be able to escape immunity.
“What they’re saying seems reasonable — it’s on the pessimistic side of what we projected in the COVID-19 scenario modeling run,” Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, told The Washington Post.
“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 said. “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.”