The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has spread to nearly one-third of U.S. states, prompting the surgeon general to call for calm as the nation struggles to get a grip on the ongoing pandemic.
Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy on Sunday implored Americans to help curb the spread of the new variant despite telling them they shouldn’t fear it.
‘I do think it’s a reason for us to not necessarily panic but to be more vigilant and to recognize that the precautions that we have been talking about for the last year or so are all the more important now than ever,’ Murthy told Fox News host Chris Wallace.
‘We do know that the measures that we take to protect ourselves from the spread of COVID – including wearing masks in indoor spaces, being in well-ventilated spaces – those work and will work against omicron.’
At least 15 US states have reported Omicron cases, including: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.
Dr. Fauci said Sunday morning on CNN that South African officials indicated the Omicron variant does not appear to be translating into more hospitalizations or deaths.
‘Thus far – though it’s too early to really make any definitive statements about it – it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it, but we’ve really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe or really doesn’t cause any severe illness comparable to delta,’ he said.
‘But thus far, the signals are a bit encouraging regarding the severity. But again we’ve got to hold judgement until we get more experienced.’
Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy on Sunday implored Americans to help curb the spread of the new variant despite telling them they shouldn’t fear it
At least 15 US states have reported Omicron cases, including: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin
Many of the cases were among fully vaccinated individuals with mild symptoms, although the booster shot status of some patients was not known.
Despite several dozen Omicron cases, the Delta variant still accounts for 99.9 percent of the 90,000 to 100,000 new cases of COVID each day in the United States, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told ABC News.
‘We are everyday hearing about more and more probable cases so that number is likely to rise,’ she said. ‘We know it has many mutations, more mutations than prior variants.
‘Many of those mutations have been associated with more transmissible variants, with evasion of some of our therapeutics, and potentially evasion of some of our immunity, and that’s what we’re watching really carefully.’
About 71 percent of the US population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and more than 83 percent of adults have received at least one jab, according to the CDC.
As of 1 p.m. Sunday, there have been more than 49 million cases of COVID-19 and 788,212 deaths in the nation since the pandemic took hold, according to Johns Hopkins University.
About 71 percent of the US population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine
The have been more than 49 million cases of COVID-19 and 788,212 deaths in the nation since the pandemic took hold, according to Johns Hopkins University
Although the Omicron variant was first identified in South Africa, it was later revealed that a case of the variant was confirmed in Europe a week before cases were detected in South Africa.
President Joe Biden locked eight South African countries out of the US last Monday in fear of the new super mutant COVID variant, and the ban remains in place despite travel remaining open to other foreign countries.
The US is now considering lifting its South Africa travel ban, White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday.
‘When the ban was put on, it was put to give us time to figure out just what is going on,’ Fauci told CNN’s Jack Tapper during Sunday morning’s episode of State of the Nation.
White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN on Sunday that the US is reconsidering the South Africa travel ban
‘Now as you mentioned, as we are getting more and more information about cases in our own country and worldwide, we’re looking at that very carefully on a daily basis.’
COVID-19 vaccine makers are looking to quickly tweak their shots to target Omicron and U.S. regulators have vowed speedy reviews, but that could still take months.
‘Certainly, FDA (Food and Drug Administration) will move swiftly and CDC will move swiftly,’ Walensky said.
Moderna has said it could seek U.S. approval for an updated vaccine as soon as March, but company officials in television interviews on Sunday said it still take time to increase output.
Moderna co-founder and Chairman Noubar Afeyan told CNN it would take another seven to 10 days to gather key Omicron data. Then, it ‘will take a good 60 to 100 days’ to deploy an Omicron-specific shot, although other options like a higher dose of the current booster are being explored, he said.
U.S. government officials are also working with vaccine makers Pfizer Inc and Johnson & Johnson on updated shots.
Pfizer and Merck & Co Inc are also pursuing COVID-19 pill treatments.
More than 20 months after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the surgeon general is still encouraging Americans to wear masks regardless of vaccination status.
The above chart shows the daily COVID-19 cases in the US for November and December
‘Certainly what we’ve been seeing since the summer time is that if you are vaccinated or unvaccinated but gathered with people outside your household in indoor spaces, that wearing a mask is the recommended step to take to help reduce the potential for spread,’ Murthy said.
‘It protects you, but it also protects the people around you.’
He added that although the nation is still in the thick of the pandemic, it’s in a better spot than it was when the crisis began.
‘I just want to make sure people understand this very clearly: We are not back in March 2020, despite the prospect of a new variant – omicron – on the horizon and despite the fact that we found cases here,’ Murthy said. ‘We have more tools, we have more knowledge to protect ourselves.’
New York announced three more cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus Saturday, bringing the number of state cases linked to the new variant to eight.
‘The omicron variant is here, and as anticipated we are seeing the beginning of community spread,’ state Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said in a news release.
Seven of the cases have been found in New York City, once a global epicenter of the pandemic, and the other in Suffolk County.
The arrival of omicron comes as hospitals statewide continue to strain under a surge in coronavirus cases, most traced to the delta variant, along with staffing shortages.
The number of people testing positive in New York each day for the virus has doubled in the past 30 days.
Governor Kathy Hochul in recent days authorized the Health Department to limit nonessential, non-urgent procedures at hospitals close to running out of beds and deployed National Guard teams to relieve healthcare workers at facilities dealing with staffing issues and surging caseloads.
Fifteen members of the National Guard arrived at Monroe Community Hospital in Rochester on Saturday, WROC reported.
Lieutenant-Governor Brian Benjamin said Wednesday the state would send 13 National Guard teams to the western New York county, where county executive Adam Bello has declared a state of emergency.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul in recent days authorized the Health Department to limit nonessential, non-urgent procedures at hospitals close to running out of beds and deployed National Guard teams to relieve healthcare workers at facilities dealing with staffing issues and surging caseloads
New York’s omicron cases so far appear to be unrelated, Hochul said.
One of the known cases involved a man from Minnesota who was among 50,000 people who attended a three-day anime festival in New York City in November. Authorities have urged anyone who attended the conference to get tested for COVID-19 and wear a mask in public.
Much remains unknown about omicron, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it can thwart vaccines and whether it makes people as sick as the original strain.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on Saturday reported his state’s first confirmed case of the variant, saying it may also be linked to the New York City anime convention.
The case involves a vaccinated Hartford-area man in his 60s who has a family member who attended the convention.
The above chart shows the number of new infections per day in the US, which has recorded 49,057,988 cases of the COVID-19 virus since the pandemic was declared in March 2020
The family member, who is also vaccinated, developed symptoms that have since resolved, Lamont’s office said.
In Washington state, three cases of the omicron variant were confirmed Saturday — one each in Thurston, Pierce and King counties, state health officials said.
They noted the investigation is still early, and details were not yet known on the travel histories of the patients, two men and a woman who range from 20 to 39 years old.
A Massachusetts woman in her 20s who had traveled out of state is the first known case of the variant detected in her state, the Department of Public Health announced Saturday.
The unidentified woman – a resident of Middlesex County – is fully vaccinated and has experienced mild symptoms.
A woman who recently traveled from South Africa became both New Jersey and Georgia’s first confirmed case after seeking care for moderate symptoms at an emergency room.
One of the known cases involved a man from Minnesota who was among 50,000 people who attended a three-day anime festival in New York City in November
The man now says that more than a dozen friends who attended the convention with him have since tested positive for Covid. It is not known whether the cases are related to the new variant
The fully vaccinated Georgia resident was in her home state for two days between arriving from South Africa and traveling onward to New Jersey, health officials in both states said.
Maryland’s first three cases of the omicron variant were found in the Baltimore metropolitan region and include two people from the same household, authorities said.
One of the two is a vaccinated person who recently traveled to South Africa. Thea third case, detected in a vaccinated person with no recent travel history, is unrelated.
In Pennsylvania, a man in his 30s from Philadelphia became that state’s first case.
The Philadelphia Department of Public Health did not immediately say whether the man was vaccinated against COVID-19 or if he had been traveling.
Missouri’s presumed first case involves someone who recently traveled within the U.S., according to state health officials, who did not provide additional details about the St. Louis resident.
The St. Louis Health Department said it was awaiting confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Case counts in California, Nebraska and Colorado grew Friday.
Five cases in Northern California were linked to a wedding in Wisconsin late last month, public health officials said.
One of the individuals had recently returned from traveling internationally, according to the Alameda County Department of Public Health.
Health officials confirmed six new cases of the variant in southeastern Nebraska. State health officials said the state’s first case likely stemmed from one of the six who recently traveled to Nigeria and returned on Nov. 23
Colorado detected the state’s second case of the omicron variant just a day after the state’s first confirmed case, officials said Friday.
‘We knew the omicron variant was coming and we expect to see more cases. But let me be clear: We are not defenseless,’ Hochul said.
‘We have the tools to help prevent the spread of this deadly virus: Get your vaccine, get your booster, and wear your mask.’