That didn’t take very long. Less than three weeks after the Omicron variant was first detected in a patient in the United States, it has become the dominant coronavirus strain in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
On Monday, the CDC reported that the variant’s share of infections over the past week had jumped almost sixfold, making up 73 percent of new infections as of December 18. In New York — where the pervasive spread of Omicron and anxiety over holiday plans have made hours-long waits at COVID testing facilities standard — the prevalence of the variant is closer to 90 percent of new infections, per the CDC. On Monday, over 15,000 cases were reported in the city, breaking the prior record set the day before by around 3,000 cases.
“These numbers are stark, but they’re not surprising,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said, referring to the massive surge in cases experienced in other countries where the strain is prevalent. The World Health Organization has reported similar data, stating this weekend that the variant causes coronavirus cases to double every 1.5 to three days in areas with community transmission. The 73 percent estimation should also be taken with the consideration that the sample from which it was taken was quite small, as University of Massachusetts professor and public health researcher Nicholas Reich notes:
Much is still unknown about Omicron, including the severity of symptoms compared with prior strains and the level of protection against hospitalization provided by vaccines — though public-health officials encourage Americans to get booster shots for an additional layer of defense. “I ultimately do believe that this will have an overall milder appearance,” Scripps Research Institute professor Dr. Eric Topol told Intelligencer. “But the problem is, if you put this virus in people who are unvaccinated, or with prior-COVID without a vaccination, or people who have waned in their vaccine, you’re going to see just as much virulence as with any other version of the virus.”
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden will address the nation on how the administration will aid “communities in need of assistance.” Hours after the CDC reported the Omicron data, the White House announced that a fully vaccinated and boosted “mid-level staff member” tested positive on Monday after spending 30 minutes in proximity to the president on Air Force One on Friday.
More on omicron
- What We Know About All the Omicron Subvariants, Including BA.4 and BA.5
- Seriously, the Pandemic Isn’t Over
- Is the U.S. Facing Another COVID Wave?