The United States could face a surge of Covid-19 cases this January, with the Omicron variant possibly contributing to that winter wave, according to modeling data that was presented to state and local health officials during a call with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday. But that's just one possible scenario.
The modeling information, along with data from Europe, indicates that the number of Covid-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant has the potential to double every two days, Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told CNN on Wednesday.
The CDC told CNN in a written statement Tuesday that the agency "regularly discusses planning scenarios with public health officials around the country" and Tuesday's discussion "was part of a regularly scheduled meeting hosted by the CDC COVID-19 Response with the leaders of four public health organizations."
The statement noted that the CDC is "preparing for a range of scenarios" with the Omicron variant and a portion of Tuesday's meeting was dedicated to "discussion around results from various modeling groups related to Omicron" — but no CDC, US Department of Health and Human Services or US government models were presented.
"When you think about that this virus has the potential to double every two days, then in a couple of weeks, we're going to be facing a lot of cases of Omicron," said Freeman, who was on part of Tuesday's call.
"That modeling implies that sometime in January, we will be at a different stage of recognizing Omicron, maybe as even a predominant virus. However, we still are learning about the severity, transmissibility," Freeman said. "The data is emerging from around the world."
While the Delta variant continues to cause the most Covid-19 cases in the United States, Omicron climbed from causing 0.4% of cases in the week ending on Dec. 4 to causing 2.9% of cases in the week ending on Dec. 11, according to CDC data. Currently, CDC data indicates that Delta causes 96.8% of cases.
Freeman said that there is concern a rise in Omicron cases paired with climbing Delta cases and an increase in flu cases potentially could overwhelm health systems this winter as well as possibly lead to a need to ramp up Covid-19 testing capacities.
"It's the combination. It's kind of the perfect storm of public health impacts here with Delta already impacting many areas of the country and jurisdictions," Freeman said.
"We don't want to overwhelm systems more," Freeman added. "But it looks like that we need to prepare for that because if this virus spreads that rapidly, even though it doesn't make people that sick, they're going to seek testing."