Wednesday's White House statement stated that there is no need to lock down because vaccines are readily available and offer protection against the worst effects of the virus. Even if omicron is less severe than delta overall, it could disarm some lifesaving tools and expose immune-compromised or elderly people to the virus. It will also launch a rapid attack on the United States.
"Our delta surge continues and is actually accelerating. We're also going to add an "omicron surge"," Dr. Jacob Lemieux said, who monitors variants in a Harvard Medical School-led research collaboration.
"This is alarming because hospitals are already full. The staff are tired, leaving little room for COVID-19 patients "from an omicron surge superimposed on a Delta surge."
He and other experts suggested that an omicron wave is likely to be underway in the United States. The latest mutant coronavirus has outpaced the nation's ability track it.
Based on specimens collected last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said omicron accounted for about 3% of genetically-sequenced coronaviruses nationally. The percentages vary depending on where you live, with New York/New Jersey having the highest (13%)
Harvard experts disagree. Omicron is moving at such a rapid pace that surveillance efforts can't keep up with it, so these estimates are likely to be underestimated.
More than 75 countries worldwide have reported cases of omicron. 36 states in the United States have confirmed the variant. Delta is exploding in many areas, with hot spots in New England, the Upper Midwest, and elsewhere. New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Minnesota are the five states with highest rolling average cases per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks.
Due to the rapid spread of infections, universities are closing their classrooms abruptly during finals week. The NBA and NHL had to cancel games. Meanwhile, the NFL experienced its worst two-day epidemic since the outbreak. Hundreds of NFL players were infected.
The president of the European Union declared that omicron would become the dominant variant within a month. He also stated that "once more, this Christmas will overshadow the pandemic."
Scientists all over the globe are working together to better understand omicron. It has many worrying mutations in key regions of its genetic structure, which could impact how it spreads. The "doubling time" is a measure of how quickly cases double, which can provide a glimpse of the disease burden in just a few weeks.
Rochelle Walensky, Director of the CDC, stated Wednesday that preliminary data suggest that omicron may be more transmissible than Delta with a doubling period of approximately two days.
On Wednesday, the U.K. recorded the highest number confirmed COVID-19 new infections since the pandemic started. England's chief physician warned that the situation could get worse during holidays when omicron drives new waves of illness.
Bronwyn MacInnis is the director of pathogen genomic surveillance at Harvard's Broad Institute of MIT. "The data from the UK are quite alarming." She said that omicron was the most prevalent variant in London by Tuesday afternoon.
Omicron is still a mystery in many ways. There are signs that omicron is being discovered in South Africa, the first place it was reported. This suggests it could cause less severe diseases than delta, but it's better at evading vaccines.
MacInnis cautioned, however, that there's more to this variant than we know, including the severity.
Lemieux stated that there are fewer tools available to combat it. Lemieux stated that some monoclonal antibodies treatments are not as effective against omicron as they were in laboratory tests. Although vaccines seem to provide less protection, CDC officials stated that booster shots can increase that protection.
On Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Infectious Disease Expert said that there is no immediate need for an omicron-specific booster shot. Fauci stated that the two-dose mRNA shots (the Moderna and Pfizer) still offer significant protection against hospitalization by omicron.
Fauci stated, "If we didn’t have these tools I would be telling us to really, really worry."
White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said that the U.S. has all the tools necessary to combat the virus, including omicron. "There is no need for us to lock down," he added. With vaccines now available for 95% of Americans, "we have the knowledge to keep our children in school and our businesses open." We won't close down.
Officials from the Health Department urged Americans to be vaccinated and receive booster shots. They also recommended that they wear masks indoors, and have their blood tested before going on holiday and traveling.
Michael Fraser, the CEO of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials said that "Hospital capacity in many states is already at breaking point because of severe COVID-19 cases."
MacInnis stated that severe cases will be inevitable due to the high transmission rate.
She said that no matter how severe it effects healthy, fully vaccinated, and boosted populations it will still hit the most vulnerable of us hardest. "So, elderly people, immunocompromised and other vulnerable groups will continue to be at highest risk and bear the brunt."