Covid-19 Live Updates: Omicron Variants and Boosters News


Credit…A Rong Xu for the New York Times

The proportion of coronavirus cases in the United States caused by the Omicron variant has risen sharply and could portend a significant increase in infections as early as next month, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the week that ended on Saturday, Omicron accounted for 2.9% of cases across the country, up from 0.4% the week before, according to the agency’s projections released on Tuesday.

In the region comprising New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, the percentage of Omicron infections had already reached 13.1%.

In a briefing Tuesday with state and local health officials and representatives from public health laboratories across the country, CDC officials warned of two possible scenarios. The first was a tidal wave of infections, both Omicron and Delta, arriving as early as next month, just as flu and other winter respiratory infections peak.

“The first signals are indicating that there are going to be waves ahead,” said Scott Becker, chief executive of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, who was on the call.

“We are already expecting a slight uptick, simply because we have already seen a lot of respiratory viruses this fall, including RSV, which was important,” he added.

Federal health officials have also proposed a second scenario in which a smaller increase in Omicron cases occurs in the spring. It was not clear which forecast was more likely.

The first evidence for the variant has only started to emerge, and it is still unclear how often infections with Omicron lead to hospitalizations or deaths. The variant appears to be able to partially bypass the body’s immune defenses, but scientists have yet to determine how well vaccination and previous infection can protect individuals from serious disease.

To track variants, the CDC uses a national surveillance system that collects samples, as well as genetic sequences generated by commercial labs, university labs, and state and local public health labs.

The US system has been relatively slow to accommodate cases of the variant, possibly due in part to travel habits or restrictive entry rules to the United States. But the system is also limited by blind spots and delays.

Last week, the CDC reported that of the 43 known infections detected in the United States in the first eight days of December, 34 of the patients, or 79%, had been fully vaccinated when they started showing symptoms or have tested positive. Only about a third of the 43 people had traveled abroad in the two weeks prior to diagnosis, indicating some level of community spread of the variant.

The fight against Omicron may require the federal government to replenish funding for the response, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra suggested on Tuesday. Mr Becerra told reporters that there was about $ 10 billion left of the $ 50 billion Congress had allocated for testing.

For public health laboratories, as for hospitals, staffing can be a challenge, Becker said.

“These are the same staff who do the molecular testing, genomic sequencing and influenza surveillance,” he said. “We’re already overloaded, so we need to start thinking about alternative plans, temporary staff, bringing in people who helped at peak events last year. “

“The lab community is tired,” added Becker. “The healthcare community is tired. “Gear up, we might have another push,” is a difficult message to hear. “

In Europe, health officials have warned of a spike in Omicron cases. According to estimates on Monday, cases of the variant in Denmark, which are similar to the United States in terms of vaccination rates and average age, were doubling every other day.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, told a press briefing on Tuesday that “Omicron is spreading at a rate that we have not seen with any previous variant.”

Dr Tedros and senior WHO officials cautioned against underestimating the variant. “Even if Omicron causes less severe cases, the large number of cases could again overwhelm unprepared health systems,” he said.

In the United States, state and local health officials have urged Americans to take action to prevent the spread of Covid by getting vaccinated, getting vaccinated and wearing masks in indoor public places. Families and friends gathered for the holidays should get tested before partying together, meeting outdoors if possible or, failing that, in well-ventilated spaces.

As the Delta variant continues its rapid spread in the United States, state and territorial health officials are increasingly concerned about emerging data from Europe and South Africa which indicates that the Omicron variant could be even more transmissible, ”said Michael Fraser, executive director of the Association of State and Territory Health Workers.

“Hospital capacity is already at a breaking point in many states due to severe cases of Covid-19,” he added.

Nick cumming bruce contributed reports.


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