COVID-19 cases and deaths are dropping months after Omicron ripped across the U.S. claiming lives and overwhelming hospitals.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist, says the variant left behind protection against Omicron and similar variants.
"I would put [Omicron] down as the most dangerous variant," he said. "It looks as though all the Omicron protection, whether from vaccine or the natural infection, is real. It will protect against serious disease."
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in conjunction with The Associated Press released a study that found 73% of Americans, for now, are immune to Omicron, the dominant COVID-19 variant. And it's expected to increase to 80% by mid-March.
"[Omicron] is building up some natural protection in the population so-called herd immunity," Schaffner continued. "If we combine that with the people who are vaccinated — and there will be some overlap — I think that will help our transition from pandemic COVID to endemic COVID."
Weekly COVID-19 cases in the U.S. average 122,000. It's a dramatic 85% drop in COVID-19 cases compared to a month ago. Some hospitals may already be feeling the effects of the protection.
Dr. Shad Marvasti is an associate professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine Phoenix. He says the findings are exciting, but worries the study may give a false sense of security.
"In some cases, people are having entire shifts in the emergency room where they're not seeing a single case of COVID," he said. "It really sends a premature signal that things are over and everything is safe. Whereas what we should be telling people is, we should actually define immunity as being vaccinated and boosted."
Health experts warn a new variant may arise and adds that protection varies by region.
The study shows 80 million Americans may still be at risk and important questions remain.
"We're still learning exactly how secure our protection is from Omicron infection and for how long it will last," Schaffner said. "We wouldn't be surprised if — even though we've recovered after a period of months — we could still get reinfected, perhaps mildly, not have any symptoms or have a mild cold and still be at some risk of transmitting the infection to others."
Sixty-five percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated according to the CDC. Some health experts want to see that average jump to at least 80%.