Fauci: Omicron spreading fast in US, but symptoms less severe than Delta
Washington, Dec 29 (EFE).- The Omicron variant of the coronavirus continues to spread rapidly in the United States, with the number of new cases spiking by 60 percent in just one week, although authorities insist that it causes less severe illness than earlier strains and say that isolation periods may be reduced for those who contract it or come in contact with those who test positive.
The latest weekly average figure is for 240,400 new infections in the past seven days, 60 percent more than for the previous seven-day period, while hospitalizations have risen by 14 percent and deaths by 7 percent across the US, where almost 40 percent of the public have not gotten themselves vaccinated.
Although the figures do not seem encouraging at this time, the top epidemiologist for the Joe Biden administration, Dr. Anthony Fauci, on Wednesday expressed more optimism than on other occasions when he has publicly discussed the pandemic.
Fauci expressed confidence that in a few months the pandemic will make a “transition” resulting in the public’s ability to live with the virus by keeping it under “control,” and thus although Covid-19 will not be eradicated society and the economy will no longer be “disrupted” by it, in contrast to the situation to date.
In any case, Fauci insisted that the coronavirus, and especially the Omicron variant, is “highly transmissible” and “everyone” across the country is seeing a number of cases pop up in their vicinity.
But he also emphasized that several studies have shown that the new variant is “less severe” than the Delta strain, and he cited by way of example reports showing that Omicron causes less lung damage than Delta.
Fauci nevertheless called on Americans not to let their guard down so that no additional stress is placed on the hospital networks in certain parts of the US, which has been the nation hardest hit by the virus and which has a much lower rate of vaccination than certain other large economies around the world.
Thus, once again, health authorities insisted on issuing a call for people to get themselves vaccinated and also asked people who are already fully vaccinated to get a booster shot, something that is fundamental, said Fauci, in providing the necessary protection against the new variant.
Booster shots upgrade recipients’ protection against the virus, said Fauci, although he said he did not want to speculate at this time whether a fourth shot might be necessary, saying that authorities will have to see how the situation evolves.
In answering reporters’ questions about that possibility, Fauci said that authorities will go “step by step” and, although he did admit that the fourth vaccine dose might ultimately prove necessary, for now he insisted that focus must be on getting people a third shot and getting those who have not yet been immunized to do so.
Fauci appeared before reporters on Wednesday just two days after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cut the quarantine period for people experiencing Covid symptoms from 10 to five days.
That decision was made in consideration of the fact that most people who have been infected infect others in the one or two days prior to showing any symptoms and in the two or three days after symptoms appear.
At the press conference on Wednesday, CDC director Rochelle Walensky defended the decision – which has not been controversial – by saying that it was made after several economic sectors, including the airlines, requested shortening the quarantine time for their personnel who test positive for the virus or who come in contact with those who have tested positive.
The fact that employees have had to stay home from work for 10 days after becoming infected resulted in a shortage of personnel and was the main reason that airlines have given for having to cancel or reschedule thousands of flights in recent days.
After noting that the level of transmission for Omicron is very high during the two days before symptoms become evident and for two or three days afterwards, Walensky said that “five days after” the last symptoms the risk of infecting others has been “substantially” reduced.
She also said that authorities now feel that it is unnecessary to continue testing Covid sufferers after that point, saying that there have been cases when PCR tests still show a positive result 12 weeks after infection but that does not mean that the person could still infect others.
Given the rapid increase in the number of infections, the Biden administration last week took extraordinary measures to deal with this new phase in the pandemic and on Wednesday the coordinator of the White House’s pandemic response team, Jeff Zients, insisted on sending state governments the message that, in effect, “if you need something, ask for it.”
Zients said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has sent personnel and equipment – that is, doctors, ambulances and testing centers – to different states, including New York, Arizona, New Mexico and Wisconsin, among others.