Fauci says omicron is ‘raging through the world’; variant makes up nearly 3% of US cases: COVID-19 updates – USA TODAY

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious diseases expert, said Sunday that the omicron variant of the coronavirus is “raging through the world” and could possibly replace the highly transmissible delta variant as the dominant strain.

The variant has been detected in 89 countries, according to the World Health Organization, and COVID-19 cases involving omicron are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in places with community transmission.

“The one thing that’s very clear – and there’s no doubt about this – is it’s extraordinary capability of spreading,” Fauci said in an interview with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press Sunday. “It is just raging through the world.” 

The delta variant makes up more than 96% of coronavirus cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But omicron is quickly gaining ground, making up nearly 3% of total U.S. cases. Fauci said in certain parts of the country the omicron variant is found in about 50% of sequenced cases. 

“When you have a doubling time that’s that short a period, pretty soon that isolate is going to take over,” he said. “I would not be surprised if omicron bumped delta off the table.”

But health officials say the combination of both variants could be detrimental to the country. Dr. Francis Collins, retiring director of the National Institutes of Health, told Weekend Edition Sunday the U.S. could reach a million daily infections if Americans don’t take precautions against COVID-19. 

“We cannot afford to let our guard down,” he said. 

Also in the news:

►Israel’s prime minister on Sunday called on parents to vaccinate their children against the coronavirus as the new omicron variant showed signs of spreading, while authorities prepared to expand a travel ban to include the United States.

►For the third day in a row, New York surpassed its all-time record of COVID-19 cases, totaling 22,478, according to New York City Councilmember Mark D. Levine.

►Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for children 2 to 5 may not be available until the second quarter of 2022, Dr. Anthony Fauci said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, after trials suggested two doses weren’t as effective against COVID-19 and children may require three doses. 

►The NBA on Sunday postponed a total of five games involving nine teams in response to rising coronavirus numbers. Called off were three Sunday games: Cleveland at Atlanta, Denver at Brooklyn and New Orleans at Philadelphia. Also called off were Orlando’s game at Toronto on Monday and Washington’s game at Brooklyn on Tuesday.

►State Sen. Doug Ericksen, a staunch conservative and former leader of Donald Trump’s campaign in Washington state, died Friday at age 52. Ericksen’s death came weeks after he said he had tested positive for COVID-19 while in El Salvador, though his cause of death wasn’t immediately released. 

►The National Football League announced new revised COVID-19 protocols on Saturday, after an outbreak on several teams caused three games to be postponed. The protocols include a more targeted testing plan, more flexibility to have virtual meetings and a chance for a high-risk player to opt out for the rest of the season.

►Employers will be given more time to comply with a federal requirement that workers get vaccinated for COVID-19 or be regularly tested, the U.S. Department of Labor announced Saturday after a federal appeals court allowed the rule to go forward.

►Saturday Night Live canceled its live studio audience for its last show of the year “out of an abundance of caution” because of the spike in omicron cases in New York. Rising cases have also caused cancellations of performances from the Rockettes to Broadway shows.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 50.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 806,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 274.3 million cases and 5.3 million deaths. More than 203.7 million Americans – 61.4% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines over Johnson & Johnson. What does that mean for you? Read the full story.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s free Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Leading COVID drugs may not work as well against omicron, doctors warn

Doctors are warning two standard drugs they’ve used to fight infections are unlikely to work against the omicron variant.

For more than a year antibody drugs from Regeneron and Eli Lilly have been the go-to treatments for early COVID-19, thanks to their ability to head off severe disease and keep patients out of the hospital.

But both drugmakers recently warned that laboratory testing suggests their therapies will be much less potent against omicron, which contains dozens of mutations that make it harder for antibodies to attack the virus. And while the companies say they can quickly develop new omicron-targeting antibodies, those aren’t expected to launch for at least several months.

“We’re certainly going to see hospitalizations rise,” said Dr. James Cutrell of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “If we have a lack of antibodies that’s certainly going to contribute to that many more patients needing to be in the hospital.”

A third antibody from British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline appears to be the best positioned to fight omicron. But Glaxo’s drug is not widely available in the U.S., accounting for a small portion of the millions of doses purchased and distributed by the federal government. U.S. health officials are now rationing scarce drug supplies to states.

Biden to announce new steps in addressing COVID, omicron this winter

As Americans prepare for the upcoming holiday festivities, the White House braces for another possible winter surge in COVID-19 cases brought on by family gatherings, travel and the highly transmissible delta and omicron variants.

President Joe Biden plans to speak Tuesday on the status of the fight against COVID-19 and discuss government help for communities in need of assistance, White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted. The president will also warn about the risks for unvaccinated Americans.

Fauci told NBC the president would again urge people to get the booster shot, highlight increased availability of testing, discuss “surge teams” for besieged hospitals and explain how important it is to provide vaccines for the rest of the world.

“If we’re going to deal with omicron successfully, vaccinated people need to get boosted,” he said. “And obviously, people who are not vaccinated clearly need to get vaccinated now more than ever.”

44 people test positive for COVID on Royal Caribbean cruise

Forty-four people on board Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas cruise that ended Saturday tested positive for COVID-19, the cruise line said.

The cruise line also notified passengers on that sailing and on two others that a passenger who sailed on that ship during an earlier itinerary tested positive for the omicron variant.

Lyan Sierra-Caro, spokesperson for Royal Caribbean, told USA TODAY late Saturday each person was quarantined quickly.

“They were found as a result of immediately identifying close contacts after a guest tested positive,” she said. “Everyone who tested positive is asymptomatic, and we continually monitored their health. Six guests were disembarked earlier in the cruise and transported home. The remaining guests received assistance today upon our arrival.”

All passengers age 12 and older were required to be fully vaccinated and to test negative to board the cruise which departed from Miami on Dec. 11. Children ineligible for the vaccine were required to test negative, too.

– Morgan Hines, USA TODAY

Latest surge in New York City cases isn’t swamping hospitals, so far

Soaring COVID-19 case numbers, long testing lines and event cancellations might feel a bit like déjà vu, but so far New York City hospitals aren’t seeing a repeat of the surges that swamped emergency rooms early in the pandemic.

The state reported Saturday that nearly 22,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday – eclipsing the previous day’s mark for the highest single-day total for new cases since testing became widely available. More than half of the positive results were in the city.

But new hospitalizations and deaths – so far – are averaging well below their spring 2020 peak and even where they were this time last year, during a winter wave that came as vaccinations were just beginning, city data shows.

At least so far, “we’re seeing a lot more treat-and-release” coronavirus patients than in earlier waves, Dr. Eric Legome, who oversees two of Mount Sinai Health System’s emergency rooms, said.

Florida is now a ‘high transmission’ state as cases double over a week

COVID-19 cases across Florida more than doubled over the course of a week, according to data released by the Florida Department of Health on Friday. 

From Dec. 10 to Dec. 16, Florida had 29,568 COVID-19 cases and 134.6 cases per 100,000; the week prior, Florida had 13,530 COVID-19 cases and 61.6 cases per 100,000. This makes for an increase of 16,038 COVID-19 cases and 73 cases per 100,000 in the span of one week. 

The increase in the new case positivity rate saw parallel increases: From Dec. 10 to Dec. 16, Florida had a case positivity rate of 5.4%, up 2.8% from the previous week. 

The increase in cases coincides with the highly-contagious omicron’s arrival in the Sunshine State. Wastewater sampling in Orange County found the omicron variant that has swept other parts of the globe to be the main strain of COVID-19 found in the county’s sewage samples.

– Amira Sweilem, Florida Today

Contributing: The Associated Press