US Avoids Predicted Winter COVID Surge

Lisa O'Mary

March 13, 2023

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Last year, federal officials warned of a likely COVID-19 surge this winter. It never happened, making this the first pandemic winter without a significant spike.

Deaths from COVID-19 and official case counts declined dramatically, compared to the surges seen during the winter of 2021-2022.

Many experts have said that wave never appeared because so many Americans have either been vaccinated, infected, or both. That created a wall of immunity. 

While the infection rate didn't skyrocket this winter, COVID-19 still played a deadly role across America. Weekly deaths peaked at 4,439 the week of Jan. 11, compared to a peak of 17,378 in early February 2022. From peak to peak, that's a decline of 75%. 

Compared to last winter, cases reported to the CDC this winter were down about 90%. The week of Jan. 19, 2022, infections peaked at 5.6 million cases. This winter, the peak was 494,946 weekly cases at the end of December 2022. After that end-of-year high, cases declined for a couple of weeks, tipped back up to 479,604 in early January, and have steadily headed down since, with 170,576 cases reported last week. 

Comparing data can be a problem, because home testing use and reporting vary, John Brownstein, PhD, a biomedical informatics expert at Harvard Medical School, told ABC News. Declines in COVID-19 hospitalization and death rates still point to a less severe season, he said.

COVID-19 isn't going away, though. The latest projection models from the University of Washington, which has been analyzing COVID-19 statistics since the pandemic started, show a steady infection rate and slightly declining death and hospitalization rates through the spring.

Globally, the virus has been less deadly but is forecast to remain a problem. From November 2021 to December 2022, worldwide infection counts doubled, compared to the prior year, but there were just one-fifth of the deaths, according to a report released last week by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a global health research center at the University of Washington. 

"The massive Omicron waves and high vaccination rates in many high-income countries have together contributed to high levels of immunity against SARS-CoV-2 infection," the authors wrote.

They predicted there will be significant COVID-19 activity outside the U.S. in the coming year, particularly in China, where many people don't have immunity provided by prior infection and models project an uncontrolled outbreak. 


ABC News: "The winter COVID wave that wasn't: Why the US didn't see a surge."

CDC: "Trends in Number of COVID-19 Cases and Deaths in the US Reported to CDC, by State/Territory."

Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation: "Forecasting the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic into 2023 under plausible variant and intervention scenarios: a global modelling study."


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