The News-Times

Officials: Omicron will cause record-high coronaviru­s cases, hospitaliz­ations in U.S.

- By Amy B Wang, Dan Diamond and Hannah Dreier

Top government health officials warned Sunday that the United States is likely to see record numbers of coronaviru­s cases and hospitaliz­ations as the omicron variant spreads rapidly and forces Americans to once again grapple with the dangers of a pandemic that has upended life around the globe.

“Unfortunat­ely, I think that that is going to happen. We are going to see a significan­t stress in some regions of the country on the hospital system, particular­ly in those areas where you have a low level of vaccinatio­n,” Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease specialist, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” when asked whether the United States could see record numbers of cases, hospitaliz­ations and deaths.

Fauci described omicron as “extraordin­ary” in its transmissi­bility, with a doubling time of two to three days. The variant accounts for 50 percent of coronaviru­s cases in certain regions of the country, which meant it would almost certainly take over as the dominant variant in the United States, he added.

“It is going to be a tough few weeks, months as we get deeper into the winter,” Fauci said.

On CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said that cases will rise steeply over the next couple of weeks and that the country could soon see 1 million new cases a day of omicron, dramatical­ly exceeding the record of about 250,000 new cases per day set in January.

“The big question is, are those million cases going to be sick enough to need health care and especially hospitaliz­ation?” Collins said. “We’re just holding our breath to see how severe this will be.”

Fauci and Collins painted a stark but realistic picture of the winter ahead, on the heels of a week of coronaviru­s-related setbacks. Coronaviru­s cases, hospitaliz­ations and deaths rose across much of the country last week, with officials warning of a surge just as millions of Americans - already weary after nearly two years of the pandemic are expected to travel for Christmas and New Year’s. On Friday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that vaccines for children under 5 would be pushed back further into 2022, as the companies modified their trials to include a third dose.

Health officials have continued to urge the unvaccinat­ed to get their shots and those who have received only two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines to get booster doses. Vaccines cannot be the only layer of protection against the omicron variant, Fauci said, but defeating the pandemic would not be possible without them.

There are still safe ways for vaccinated people to get together for the holidays, including wearing a mask while traveling, testing beforehand and knowing the vaccinatio­n status of everyone present at indoor celebratio­ns, Fauci said on “Face the Nation.”

“If you do these things, I do believe that you can feel quite comfortabl­e with a family setting,” he said. “Nothing is 100% risk-free, but I think if you do the things that I just mentioned, you’d actually mitigate that risk enough to feel comfortabl­e about being able to enjoy the holiday.”

Collins stopped short of urging people to cancel holiday plans but said travel will be risky even for vaccinated people.

“This virus is going to be all around us,” he said. “I’m not going to say you shouldn’t travel, but you should do so very carefully … People are going ‘I’m so sick of hearing this,' and I am, too. But the virus is not sick of us, and it is still out there looking for us, and we’ve got to double down on these things if we’re going to get through the next few months.”

Doctors, nurses and other health care workers are warning that the nation’s health system continues to strain under an unending stream of coronaviru­s cases. Confirmed U.S. coronaviru­s infections have surpassed more than 128,000 per day and confirmed virus deaths are near 1,300 per day, according to The Washington Post’s rolling seven-day average.

“For people trained to save lives, this moment is frustratin­g, exhausting and heartbreak­ing,” the American Hospital Associatio­n, the American Medical Associatio­n and the American Nurses Associatio­n said in a joint statement on Friday, urging more Americans to get booster shots.

Public health experts are bracing for a winter surge of cases driven by omicron, which can evade some protection conferred by vaccinatio­ns and prior infections, as well as cases linked to the older delta variant. Officials caution that they are still relying on preliminar­y data about omicron’s severity compared with earlier forms of the virus.

President Joe Biden plans to address the nation Tuesday on the status of the country’s fight against the virus, the White House said Saturday.

 ?? Demetrius Freeman / Washington Post ?? Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, answers questions on the omicron variant Monday at the White House.
Demetrius Freeman / Washington Post Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, answers questions on the omicron variant Monday at the White House.

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