US health officials say that while the Omicron type of coronavirus is spreading rapidly across the country, initial indications are that it may be less dangerous than Delta, which continues to increase the number of hospitalizations.
President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CNN’s State Of The Union that scientists need more information before drawing conclusions about the risk of omicron.
Reports from South Africa, where it emerged and became the dominant strain, indicate that hospitalization rates have not increased alarmingly.
«So far, there does not appear to be a significant degree of risk,» Dr. Fauci said.
«But we really have to be careful before we make any decision that it’s less dangerous or that it doesn’t cause any serious disease, comparable to Delta disease.»
Respect is due to the scientific and technological expertise of African countries as well as their transparency and sharing, including data on the Omicron variant of interest. This helps ensure a safer world for all people, everywhere. #covid19
– Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) December 5, 2021
Fauci said the Biden administration is considering lifting travel restrictions on non-citizens entering the United States from several African countries.
It was imposed with the explosion of variable Omicron in the region, but UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres criticized measures such as «travel apartheid».
«We hope we can lift this ban in a very reasonable amount of time,» Dr. Fauci said. «We all feel very badly about the hardships that have been placed not only on South Africa but on other African countries.»
Omicron had been detected in about a third of US states by Sunday, including in the Northeast, South, Great Plains, and West Coast. Wisconsin and Missouri were among the most recent states to confirm cases.
But delta remains the dominant alternative, making up more than 99% of cases and leading to an increase in hospital admissions in the North.
National Guard teams have been dispatched to aid overwhelmed hospitals in western New York, and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has issued an emergency order requiring any hospitals facing limited patient capacity to reduce non-urgent scheduled procedures.
US officials continued to urge people to get vaccinated and receive booster injections, as well as take precautions such as wearing masks when strangers are inside, saying that anything that helps protect against Delta will also help protect against other variables.
Even if Omicron proves to be less dangerous than Delta, it remains a problem, said Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist at the World Health Organization.
«Even if we have a large number of mild cases, some of these individuals will need to be hospitalized,» she said.
“They will need to go to the ICU and some people will die. We don’t want to see that happen as well as an already difficult situation with Delta trading globally.”
Two years after the outbreak, Covid-19 has killed more than 780,000 Americans, and the death toll is about 860 per day.
More than 6,600 new hospital admissions are reported daily, according to tracking data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Covid-19 cases and deaths in the US have nearly halved since the Delta peak in August and September, but with more than 86,000 new infections a day, the numbers remain high, especially as the holidays approach, when people travel and gather with family.
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