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Covid US: Fauci says Omicron spreads at ‘unprecedented’ speed and cases will DOUBLE every two days

The Omicron variant is now the dominant Covid strain in the U.S., and the nation’s top health officials are issuing stern warnings that the situation will only get worse if Americans don’t take action to curb the virus’s spread. 

Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert who serves as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Tuesday that the rapid spread of this variant is something he has not often seen. 

‘Certainly this is unprecedented to see this rapidity for which any individual virus spreads throughout the world. It is really extremely unusual. It’s a doubling time of two to three days closer to two days,’ he told ABC’s Good Morning America.

‘That is truly unprecedented in the rapidity in which a virus spreads.’

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data Monday night showing that the highly infectious variant now accounts for 73 percent of U.S. Covid cases. The agency also revised last week’s data, increasing the share of the variant from 2.9 percent to 12.6 percent. This means the prevalence of the variant jumped six fold week-over-week. It has overtaken the Delta variant, which had been the nation’s dominant strain since July. 

In New York and New Jersey, the Midwest, the Southeast, the Gulf Coast, and the Northwest, the Omicron variant now account for more than 90 percent of new cases. 

While other regions currently have lower Omicron prevalence, the variant is spreading fast enough that officials expect it will be dominant throughout the country within weeks.

America also reported its first confirmed death from the variant on Monday night, when an unvaccinated Texas man between ages 50 and 60 succumbed to the variant. 

Dr Rochelle Walensky (pictured), director of the CDC, said that people who have been boosted are 20 times less likely to die of Covid than an unvaccinated person. She also said her agency is reviewing the definition of 'fully vaccianted'

Dr Anthony Fauci (left), the nation’s top infectious disease expert, warns that the Omicron variant is spreading at an ‘unprecedented’ rate and will double in cases every two days. Dr Rochelle Walensky (right), director of the CDC, said that people who have been boosted are 20 times less likely to die of Covid than an unvaccinated person. She also said her agency is reviewing the definition of ‘fully vaccianted’

The Omicron variant (purple) is now the dominant Covid strain in the U.S., making up 73% of cases last week. It overtakes the Delta variant (orange) which had been dominant since July

The Omicron variant (purple) is now the dominant Covid strain in the U.S., making up 73% of cases last week. It overtakes the Delta variant (orange) which had been dominant since July

Covid US: Fauci says Omicron spreads at 'unprecedented' speed and cases will DOUBLE every two days

Overall, cases of the variant have been relatively mild compared to Delta and other strains. It is a promising sign, but Fauci warns that the quick transmission of the virus could negate any positive effects of a less severe strain. 

‘The idea that it can spread so rapidly, even if in fact it is less severe, and it appears at least from the South African data that there is less of a ratio of hospitalization to cases and duration of stay in the hospital, so it very well may be less severe. We’re hoping that that’s the case, and we’re hoping that as this evolves here in the United States that that will be our experience,’ he said.

‘Even if it is, quantity of infections, given the extraordinary efficiency of spread might actually obviate that diminution of severity to the point that you still get significant disease so we can not take this lightly at all.’ 

Overall cases in the U.S., which we now know are mostly of the newly discovered strain, have shot upwards as well. Johns Hopkins University report 253,954 new cases on Monday. It is the highest total since September 7 – the peak of the Delta wave – and only the third time since January the 250,000 daily case mark was eclipsed. 

The nation is currently averaging 143,164 new cases every day, with that number likely to increase if Monday’s high case total becomes normal. New cases are up 20 percent over the past two weeks.

Deaths have stabilized, with America still at 1,299 deaths per day – a steady figure for the past two weeks. Hospitalizations have increased though, with 68,970 Americans receiving treatment for severe infection every day – a 14 percent increase over two weeks.

Confirmed Omicron cases increased by 37 percent day-over-day as well, up to 1,485 as of Tuesday morning, up from 1,079 on Monday. These figures are highly undercounting that total level of cases in the U.S., though, as it likely makes up hundreds of thousands – potentially millions – of cases at this point.

While things are trending in the wrong direction in the U.S, the situation in the UK is starting to stabilize. The nation was among the first to experience a massive surge in cases caused by the variant, with London in particular erupting as a global hotspot. Daily infections have remained relatively flat since last week, a promising sign that the variant is already burning out.

Still, some British health experts are fearing the worst, believing that new daily cases will jump from 91,743 a day to around 460,000 a day by the end of the year. Some, like Neil Ferguson, are even calling for lockdowns in some areas to curb the spread of the virus.

This situation in America is erupting right as the holiday season hits fully swing. Christmas is Saturday, and this week, millions of people will travel around the country and attend large gatherings with family and friends. 

Fauci believes that holiday travel and festivities is still safe as long as a person is fully vaccinated, boosted, and takes other precautions to protect themselves from the virus.

‘If you are vaccinated and particularly boosted, and you are going to be involved in an indoor home setting with family, relatives, who are also vaccinated and boosted, you could feel comfortable in doing that social interaction,’ he said.

Unvaccinated people who caught Delta have virtually no protection against Omicron infection, lab study suggests – but people who’ve had it AND been jabbed have incredible ‘super immunity’ 

People who are unjabbed but previously had the Delta Covid variant may have very little protection against Omicron infection, a lab study suggests.  

Austrian scientists tested the blood of those who had beat the older strain of the virus against the new super-variant to measure antibody levels. They found only one out of seven samples produced enough of the infection-fighting proteins to neutralize Omicron.

It suggests that prior infection alone offers virtually no protection against catching Omicron — but the jury’s still out on severe illness.

The best result overall was seen in five samples taken from those who had both survived a previous Covid infection and then later got a vaccine, a group of people the researchers dubbed the ‘super-immune’. 

Antibody studies look at one very specific part of the immune response to Covid and do not take into account T cell and B cell immunity, which are vital for protection against severe disease but more difficult to measure.

Most scientists believe people who have had Covid still enjoy some protection against serious outcomes, but immunity is known to wane significantly after six months.

This chart shows how the blood samples of people who had received vaccines and and survived a previous Delta infection performed when exposed to Omicron in terms of producing neutralizing antibodies, measured here as 'IC50', a measures of effectiveness. Any combination that failed to get higher than IC50 16 failed to produce enough antibodies to significantly fight off Omicron. These bars are averages based on all the samples of their respective combinations. It shows a previous Delta infection fails to provide any significant protection in terms of antibody production, but a combination of previous Covid infection and a vaccine provoked the best response

This chart shows how the blood samples of people who had received vaccines and and survived a previous Delta infection performed when exposed to Omicron in terms of producing neutralizing antibodies, measured here as ‘IC50’, a measures of effectiveness. Any combination that failed to get higher than IC50 16 failed to produce enough antibodies to significantly fight off Omicron. These bars are averages based on all the samples of their respective combinations. It shows a previous Delta infection fails to provide any significant protection in terms of antibody production, but a combination of previous Covid infection and a vaccine provoked the best response

This chart on the right shows how antibodies from Delta (variant designation B.1.617.2) performed against  different Covid variants, from left to right Alpha (B.1.1.7) Beta (B.1.351), Delta, and Omicron (B.1.1.529). A IC50 level above 16 meant the antibodies were sufficient enough to significantly fight off the virus. The chart on the right shows the results for 'super-immune individuals, the bars on the left show the results for individuals infected than jabbed, against Delta and Omicron, and the bars on the right show persons vaccinated and then infected

This chart on the right shows how antibodies from Delta (variant designation B.1.617.2) performed against  different Covid variants, from left to right Alpha (B.1.1.7) Beta (B.1.351), Delta, and Omicron (B.1.1.529). A IC50 level above 16 meant the antibodies were sufficient enough to significantly fight off the virus. The chart on the right shows the results for ‘super-immune individuals, the bars on the left show the results for individuals infected than jabbed, against Delta and Omicron, and the bars on the right show persons vaccinated and then infected

These charts show how two doses of Moderna's vaccine performed and the right shows the same for two doses of AstraZeneca, the numbers in the top right of each graph indicate how many samples maned to exceed the IC50 threshold

These charts show how two doses of Moderna’s vaccine performed and the right shows the same for two doses of AstraZeneca, the numbers in the top right of each graph indicate how many samples maned to exceed the IC50 threshold

The chart on the right shows how one dose of AstraZeneca and Pfizer performed  and the right two doses of the Pfizer jab

The chart on the right shows how one dose of AstraZeneca and Pfizer performed  and the right two doses of the Pfizer jab

Before the arrival of Omicron, many of these trips would be totally safe. According to CDC data, 73 percent of Americans have received at least one shot of a Covid vaccine, and 61.5 percent are fully vaccinated. Early data shows that the current crop of available vaccines are not enough to protect from the new strain.

Early data shows the initial two-shot regimens of the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines – or one shot of the J&J vaccine – do little to prevent infection from the variant, though the two former may be able to prevent hospitalization or death.

The Pfizer and Moderna booster shot re-establish some of that protection, research has found, and health officials are now urging Americans to get their additional shot.

Dr Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, told CNBC’s Shepard Smith that the definition of ‘fully vaccinated’ is up for discussion based on new data from the variant.

‘We’re examining this definition of course, but what I want to be very clear about is CDC recommendations right now say that everyone who is over the age of 18, when they become eligible should get their booster shot,’ she said.

Walensky also noted that CDC data shows a person who is fully vaccinated and boosted is 20 times less likely to die from Covid than an unvaccinated person.

She also warns that the current two-dose vaccine regimens do not protect people from infection from the new strain. And while infection is often mild, especially for vaccinated people, there is still the risk of developing ‘long Covid’ or other complications as a result of the virus.

Fauci is pushing the unvaccinated to get the shots to prevent the spread of the virus, and even stop future variants from forming. He also echoed a grim warning issued by the White House to unvaccinated people last week. 

‘One of the ways we can get it to stop is to get a lot more people vaccinated. It’s very unfortunate that we still have about 50 million people in this country who are eligible to be vaccinated who have not [gotten] vaccinated,’ Fauci told NBC’s TODAY. 

‘[Covid] will stop when we get the overwhelming majority of people vaccinated and boosted.’

‘When the people who don’t get vaccinated, ultimately, this virus is going to find them, they will get infected and many of them will suffer, and get hospitalized and some will die.’

Testing shortages have become an issue for Americans as well. Due to a run on tests ahead of holiday travel, many retailers have had trouble keeping tests on the shelves. In cities like New York, public testing sites have been plagued with long lines.

To quell the issue, the Biden Administration plans to distribute 500 million tests across the nation in the next few weeks. The military will also be deployed to testing sites in an effort to speed up some of the process. The comes in an effort to avoid the need for Covid mandates ahead of Christmas despite a recent surge in cases. 

New York is has retaken the dubious honor of leading all states in confirmed Omicron cases, with 192 sequenced as on Tuesday morning. 

The state has also seen a recent uptick in Covid cases, and recorded 22,258 new cases on Tuesday.

Wisconsin has suffered a recent surge in Omicron cases, sequencing 187, trailing only New York. On Monday, state health officials issued a public health advisory, warning residents to get vaccinated and boosted before holiday travel later this week

The New York City area has been a clear Omicron hotspot in recent weeks.

Last week, the CDC announced that Omicron was causing 13 percent of new Covid cases in New York and New Jersey.

This week, the CDC reports that 92 percent of new Covid cases in the region are caused by Omicron.

New York state has reported record Covid cases in recent days, and average daily case counts in NYC more than doubled during the week ending December 17.

Covid US: Fauci says Omicron spreads at 'unprecedented' speed and cases will DOUBLE every two days

Covid US: Fauci says Omicron spreads at 'unprecedented' speed and cases will DOUBLE every two days

Covid US: Fauci says Omicron spreads at 'unprecedented' speed and cases will DOUBLE every two days

Covid US: Fauci says Omicron spreads at 'unprecedented' speed and cases will DOUBLE every two days

Covid US: Fauci says Omicron spreads at 'unprecedented' speed and cases will DOUBLE every two days

‘We’re going to see a really fast upsurge in cases, we’re going to see a lot of New Yorkers affected by omicron,’ Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a public Covid update on Monday. 

Despite the recent surge, de Blasio has ruled out instituting more Covid related lockdowns, saying it would ‘ruin the lives’ of some residents.

Some restaurants, dealing with surges within their own staff, are choosing to close themselves due a lack of available workers.

Omicron’s spread in NYC was likely aided by Anime NYC, an anime convention held in Manhattan during the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Several Omicron cases have been connected to the convention, including among attendees who traveled from other states. 

While NYC’s surge has dominated headlines, the new CDC data also show that other regions are experiencing similarly high Omicron levels.

Omicron is causing 95 percent of new Covid cases in the national health agency’s Southeast region, which includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Last week, health officials in Orlando, Florida found that the surrounding county’s wastewater samples were dominated by Omicron – even though the variant had yet to be identified in many clinical cases.

Hospital systems in Florida are anticipating a surge in cases, the Orlando Sentinel reports .

In several Midwestern states, Omicron is causing 92 percent of new cases: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Michigan hospitals are already overwhelmed , as the state has seen record case and hospitalization numbers in recent weeks – higher than at any other point in the pandemic.

Similarly in the Gulf Coast, Omicron is causing 92 percent of new cases. This region includes Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. 

On Monday, Texas officials reported that an Omicron patient had died . The patient, a man in his 50s, was unvaccinated.

The case is the first Omicron death to be reported in the U.S.

Texas and surrounding states are bracing for a surge of Omicron cases , though hospitalization numbers are currently lower than in other regions.

The Northwest – Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska – has the highest share of cases caused by Omicron of any region, at 96 percent.

Idaho’s Panhandle region emerged from crisis standards of care on Monday after more than 100 days in this precarious position, according to the Idaho Capital Sun .

‘While this is good news for Idaho, we’re still watching the omicron variant very closely because this is a precarious time,’ said Dave Jeppesen, director of Idaho’s public health department.

‘Omicron seems to spread more easily between people,’ he said, ‘and we all need to keep taking precautions against COVID-19 by getting vaccinated or getting a booster dose, wearing masks in crowded areas, physically distancing from others, washing our hands frequently, and staying home if we’re sick to avoid overwhelming our health care systems again.’ 

Covid US: Fauci says Omicron spreads at 'unprecedented' speed and cases will DOUBLE every two days

Covid US: Fauci says Omicron spreads at 'unprecedented' speed and cases will DOUBLE every two days

New England, the mid-Atlantic region, parts of the Midwest, and the Southwest all have lower shares of cases caused by Omicron, according to CDC data.

The region including Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska has the lowest share of Omicron cases, at 30 percent.

Still, at the rate that Omicron has spread through the country, even this region will likely be dominated by the variant within the next week.

Scientists estimate that Omicron spreads three to five times as fast as Delta , making it the most highly contagious variant by far.

Preliminary research has shown that Omicron may cause more mild disease than other variants.

One South African study found that Omicron patients had a 29 percent lower risk of hospitalization than patients infected in the country’s spring 2020 wave.

However, because Omicron is so transmissible, scientists are concerned that the U.S. could see such a high number of cases in such a short time that hospitals are still overwhelmed by the variant.

Booster shots can aid in protecting against Omicron infection, studies have shown, while one or two vaccine doses reduce the risk of severe disease from this variant.

In the UK, things are going in the opposite direction. Despite fears that the nation would suffer around a half-million cases a day by Christmas, the spread of the virus seems to have stagnated.

Officials reported 91,743 new Covid cases on Tuesday, the third straight day the nation recorded more than 90,000 cases. While it represents a sharp, 68 percent increase in cases over the past week, the rate of case growth has slowed.

Earlier this month, Health Minister Sajid Javid was warning the nation would suffer one million cases by the end of the year, with the darkest outlooks projecting more than 400,000 cases per day. It seems like the variant has hit its ceiling in the UK though, and case growth has slowed to a halt in recent days.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson even instituted some measures to prevent the spread of the virus earlier this month, instituting a work from home order, enacting a mask mandate and requiring proof of vaccination or negative test to enter some venues. 

Hospitalizations have also stagnated, being about even week-over-week, with deaths in the nation not keeping up with cases either – up 15 percent over the past week.

In London, one of Europe’s first major hotspots of the new variant, case growth seems to have tapered off as well. The nation’s capital recorded 22,750 cases on Tuesday. 

Despite this tapering off in cases, the UK still leads the world in confirmed Omicron cases. The 45,145 cases in the nation are 20,000 more than any other country in the world.

Covid US: Fauci says Omicron spreads at 'unprecedented' speed and cases will DOUBLE every two days

South Africa’s daily Covid cases fall for the THIRD day in a row and hospital admissions drop 20% in a week as Omicron wave fades in the epicenter 

Daily Covid cases in South Africa have fallen week-on-week for the third day in a row and hospital admissions are tumbling just a month into its Omicron outbreak.

Data from the National Institute For Communicable Diseases (NICD) shows just 8,515 people tested positive in the past 23 hours, down from 13,992 last Monday. The 40 per cent drop is the biggest since the Omicron outbreak hit the country.

In another sign the wave is fading, hospitalizations fell by a fifth today with just 323 people admitted.

It’s the second day they’ve fallen after they dropped 53 per cent yesterday.

But there was a big dip in testing today, with 28,000 carried out compared to 45,000 last week, which may be influencing the case numbers.

But the test positive rate has also slightly dropped on last week, suggesting that the outbreak could be waning.

Fatalities – which are the biggest lagging indicator – rose to 105 today in a 855 per cent hike last Monday.

It marked the highest daily figure in South Africa’s latest wave, but is a fraction of the 844 daily deaths the country recorded at the peak last winter.

South African doctors have insisted for weeks that Omicron is milder since raising the alarm about it on November 24.

But there has been ongoing debate over whether it is intrinsically milder or if South Africa is benefitting from very high levels of natural immunity after being battered by Delta just months ago.

South Africa has accused the UK of panicking about Omicron, where Government scientists are warning of up to 6,000 daily deaths and 10,000 hospital admissions at the peak this winter.

 

 

In South Africa, the nation where the variant was first detected, Covid is beginning to recede, a promising sign that the nation’s Omicron fueled outbreak is running out of steam after a month.

The nation’s average daily Covid cases has dropped to 19,400 per day, a 17 percent decrease from only last week when cases peaked at 23,437. While it is still a much larger figure than what the country was reporting only a month ago, it signals that the variant is potentially burning out.

Hospitalizations are on the way down, though, with eleven times fewer South Africans being hospitalized with Covid now than were during the Delta surge over summer – a sign of hope going forward as the U.S. and UK begin their own struggles with the virus.

South Africa recorded 6,887 Covid related hospitalizations last week, a decrease from the 7,433 recorded a week earlier.   

Denmark only trails the UK in Omicron cases, having confirmed 23,038 cases of the variant as of Tuesday morning. The Nordic nation was struck early by one of the largest confirmed Omicron outbreaks and the situation has only been exacerbated since.

A Christmas lunch event in the Viborg region, attended by 150 students on November 27 from two local high schools has been linked to 70 cases of the variant, though all were mild.

Currently, the nation is averaging a record 8,984 new cases per day, a logged the largest single day Covid case total ever on Thursday with 9,999 cases added to the ledger.

Prime Minister Mette Fredericksen announced new measures to prevent spread of the virus last week, joining the UK.

People who can will now be ordered to work from home, and virtual schooling has been extended as well. On Friday, she announced that concert halls and theatres will be closed in response to a recent surge.

This comes after orders earlier this month, where bars and nightclubs were forced to have reduced operating hours, being forced to close at midnight now, in an effort to prevent transmission.

In the Netherlands, where 183 Omicron cases have been confirmed as of Tuesday morning, lockdowns have returned.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced Saturday that indoor gatherings will be limited to only two people each, with that limit extended to four on Christmas and New Years. 

German officials, whose nation has recorded 1,052 Omicron cases as of Tuesday morning, are also considering new lockdown orders after Christmas, Reuters reports.

European Union officials are sounding alarms as well, saying that the variant could be the continent’s dominant strain by mid-January. 


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