U.S. health officials said Sunday that while the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly across the country, initial evidence suggests it may be less dangerous than Delta, which continues to spike hospital admissions.
President Joe Biden’s senior medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CNN’s State of the Union that scientists need more information before drawing any conclusions about the severity of Omicron.
Reports from South Africa, where it emerged and is becoming the predominant stress, suggest that hospitalization rates have not increased worryingly.
“So far it doesn’t look like it has a great deal of severity,” said Fauci. “But we have to be really careful before we find out that it’s less severe or really doesn’t cause serious illness, like Delta.”
Fauci said the Biden administration was considering lifting travel restrictions on non-citizens entering the US from several African countries. They were imposed when the Omikron variant exploded in the region, but UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has blown up measures such as “travel apartheid”.
“Hopefully we can lift this ban in a reasonable time,” said Fauci. “We all feel very bad about the hardship that has been inflicted not only on South Africa but also on other African countries.”
Omicron had been detected in about a third of the US states by Sunday, including the Northeast, the South, the Great Plains, and the West Coast. Wisconsin, Missouri, and Louisiana were among the last states to confirm cases.
White House chief medical officer Anthony Fauci said the person was fully vaccinated and flew to the US from South Africa on Nov. 22. Fauci says the person has shown mild symptoms so far.
But Delta remains the predominant variant, accounting for more than 99% of the cases and leading to an increase in hospital admissions in the north. National Guard teams have been deployed to help overstretched hospitals in western New York, and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order urging all hospitals with limited patient capacity to reduce planned procedures that are not urgent.
U.S. officials continued to urge people to get vaccinated and get booster shots, as well as take precautions such as wearing masks when strangers are indoors, saying anything that helps protect against Delta also goes Protection from other variants contributes.
Even if Omicron turns out to be less dangerous than Delta, it remains problematic, said World Health Organization epidemiologist Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, told CBS on Face The Nation.
“Even if we have a large number of cases that are mild, some of these people need to be hospitalized,” she said. “You have to go to intensive care and some people will die. … We don’t want this to happen in addition to an already difficult situation with globally circulating deltas. “
Two years after the outbreak broke out, COVID-19 has killed over 780,000 Americans and the number of deaths is around 860 per day.
More than 6,600 new hospital admissions are reported daily, according to tracking data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
COVID-19 cases and deaths in the US have fallen by about half since the delta peak in August and September, but with more than 86,000 new infections per day, the numbers are still high, especially during the holidays when people travel and gather with family.
A new variant with the name B.1.1.529 was designated by the World Health Organization as a “worrying variant” and was named “Omicron” after the letter of the Greek alphabet.
Follow AP’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic
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