Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that while the omicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly across the United States, early signs are that it may be less dangerous than Delta, which continues to cause a rebound in hospitals.
Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that scientists need more information before making conclusions about the dangerousness of Omicron.
Reports from South Africa, where it has emerged and is becoming the dominant alternative, show that hospitalization rates have not increased at an alarming rate.
“So far, it doesn’t appear to be very serious,” Fauci said. “But we have to be really careful before we make any decision that it’s less risky, or that it doesn’t really cause serious illness, compared to deltas.”
Fauci noted that the Biden government is considering lifting travel restrictions on foreigners who want to enter the United States from various African countries, which were imposed while the omicron variant has spread across the region. The United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, criticized the measures, denouncing them as “apartheid travel”.
“Hopefully, we can lift this ban in a fairly reasonable amount of time,” Fauci said. “We all feel bad about the difficulties facing not only South Africa, but other African countries.”
The omicron variant was detected in about a third of US states as of Sunday, including the Northeast, South, Great Plains, and West Coast. Wisconsin and Missouri were among the last entities to confirm cases.
However, the delta remains the dominant alternative, accounting for more than 99% of cases and leading to an increase in hospitalizations in the north of the country. National Guard teams have been dispatched to aid overcrowded hospitals in western New York, and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has issued an emergency order requiring any hospital facing limited ability to serve patients to reduce non-urgent scheduled procedures.
US authorities continued to require people to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and get a booster dose, as well as to take measures such as wearing masks when strangers are inside, noting that whatever serves to protect against the changing delta also works against other variables.
Even if Omicron turns out to be less dangerous than Delta, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist at the World Health Organization, said on CBS’ “Face The Nation,” it’s still a problem.
“Even if we have a large number of intermediate cases, some of these individuals will need to be treated in hospital,” he noted. “They’re going to need to go into intensive care and some people will die… We don’t want to see that happen, along with a really difficult situation where Delta is spreading globally.”
Two years after the outbreak, COVID-19 has killed more than 780,000 Americans, and there are currently about 860 daily deaths from the disease.