While the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has spread to well almost a third of the United States, the Delta variant continues to account for most of the COVID-19 infections as cases spread across the country, US health officials confirmed on Sunday.
While the advent of the new variant has sparked widespread anxiety, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease authority in the United States, cautioned that so far, it does not appear to have a high degree of severity.” He emphasized that it was premature to draw conclusive assumptions and that further study was necessary.
Fauci, who serves as the chief medical adviser to US President Joe Biden, added that he hoped the US will also withdraw its restriction on travelers from southern African countries within a “reasonable time.”
The South African government has protested that it is being punished – rather than commended – for swiftly detecting the new variant and alerting international health officials.
Fauci complimented South Africa’s transparency in an interview “State of the Union,” adding that the US travel ban was implemented at a time when the US was truly in the dark and needed time to study the variant.
Omicron Stack up Across the US
At least 16 states in the United States have reported cases of Omicron: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Many of the infections occurred in persons who were fully vaccinated and had minimal symptoms, however, the booster shot status of some patients was not reported.
Notwithstanding several dozen Omicron cases, the Delta variant continues to account for 99.9% of new COVID cases in the United States, according to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
She indicated they were hearing about more and more probable cases daily, and as such, the figure is sure to increase,”.
According to analysis, the United States has averaged 119,000 new cases per day over the last seven days and has lost roughly 1,300 lives to COVID.
Louisiana’s health department reported Sunday that the state now has one Omicron case from an individual who traveled within the United States.
It said Saturday that a Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd cruise ship carrying over 3,000 travelers reported ten cases of COVID-19 on board.
Officials indicated passengers on the Norwegian Breakaway, which made stops in Belize, Honduras, and Mexico, will be tested and given post-exposure and quarantine guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The advent of the new variant has significantly limited the number of energy executives and government ministers scheduled to attend this week’s four-day World Petroleum Congress in Houston, which had been delayed from 2020.
However, travel restrictions and concerns about the new variant led to the withdrawal of energy ministers from Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Qatar, Argentina, Equatorial Guinea, Greece, Turkey, and Romania, WPC officials confirmed Sunday.
Governors of Connecticut and Colorado, both of which have reported Omicron cases, expressed optimism that their states’ higher-than-average vaccination rates would mitigate the impact.
“We want to see how vaccines work,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis stated.
Vaccine Manufacturers Reaction
As more cases of Omicron in the United States emerge, COVID-19 vaccine companies intend to immediately adapt their shots to contain the variant, and US authorities have sought to expedite reviews, but that may take months.
Walensky said certainly, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) will act fast.
Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) has set a March deadline for the approval of an improved vaccine in the United States, but company officials indicated Sunday that it will take time to ramp up production.
Noubar Afeyan, co-founder and chairman of Moderna, cautioned that collecting vital data will take another seven to ten days. Then, he added, it will take a good 60 to 100 days to deploy an Omicron-specific shot, while other options, such as increasing the dose of the current booster, are being evaluated.
Additionally, the US government is liaising with Pfizer Inc and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) on improved shots, while Pfizer and Merck & Co Inc (MRK.N) are developing COVID-19 pill therapies.