New York: The Omicron variant is spreading rapidly in the United States and could trigger a huge wave of COVID infections as early as January, federal health officials said. The Omicron variant was first detected in Houston on November 29.
In just one week there was a sevenfold spike in the highly contagious variant’s presence across the nation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That could strain an already overworked health system in many areas as the Delta variant continues to surge.
Meanwhile, the White House on Wednesday insisted there was no need for a lockdown because vaccines are widely available and appear to offer protection against the worst consequences of the virus.
The officials were alarmed by the CDC briefing on December 14, which listed two scenarios of how the new variant may spread through the country. The health officials feared that a fresh wave on top of the delta surge and influenza cases would overwhelm the healthcare system, particularly in places with low vaccination rates. In the second scenario, the CDC said there could be a smaller Omicron surge in the spring.
According to the new CDC data, from December 4-11, the Omicron variant jumped from a mere 0.4 percent of new infections in the United States to 2.9 percent. In New York and New Jersey Omicron already accounts for 13 percent of new cases.
“Omicron and Delta variants, combined with seasonal flu, could turn out to be “triple whammy”. We got to get people ready for this,” Marcus Plescia, Chief Medical Officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials said.
A study out of South Africa released this week showed that while the variant is more contagious than any scientists have seen so far, though Omicron cases tend to be mild.
The CDC’s latest analysis of Omicron’s spread matches that of several U.S. academic groups and data from the U.K., Denmark, and Norway. Early data show that fully vaccinated people who receive a booster shot remain largely protected against severe illness and death from Omicron, but there are concerns about how few Americans have gotten boosters, officials say.
Of the 200 million fully vaccinated people in the United States, more than 50 million have now received boosters, according to the CDC.