Omicron Variant Is Starting to Appear Nationwide, C.D.C. Says

During the week that ended on Saturday, Omicron accounted for 2.9 percent of cases across the United States, up from 0.4 percent in the previous week, the agency said.,


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The Omicron variant is beginning to appear nationwide, the C.D.C. says.

A Covid-19 vaccination site at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
A Covid-19 vaccination site at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.Credit…An Rong Xu for The New York Times

By Todd Gregory

  • Dec. 14, 2021Updated 4:36 p.m. ET

The proportion of known coronavirus cases in the United States caused by the Omicron variant increased sharply, according to new estimates released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday, though Delta remains the dominant version.

During the week that ended on Saturday, Omicron accounted for 2.9 percent of cases across the country, up from 0.4 percent in the previous week, the agency’s projections showed. In the region comprising New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the percentage of Omicron infections had already reached 13.1 percent.

While early evidence has begun to emerge about Omicron, it remains unclear how often cases lead to hospitalizations or deaths. The variant seems to be able to partially dodge the body’s immune defenses, but it has yet to be determined to what degree vaccination and prior infection may safeguard individuals from severe disease.

To track variants, the C.D.C. uses a national genomic surveillance system that collects samples, as well as genetic sequences generated by commercial laboratories, academic laboratories, and state and local public health laboratories.

The U.S. system was relatively slow to pick up on cases of the variant, perhaps in part because of travel patterns or restrictive U.S. entrance rules. But the system is also constrained by blind spots and delays.

Last week, the C.D.C. reported that of the 43 known infections detected in the United States in the first eight days of December, 34 of the patients, or 79 percent, had been fully vaccinated when they first started showing symptoms or tested positive. Only about a third of the 43 people had traveled internationally in the two weeks before diagnosis, indicating some level of community spread of the variant.

The fight against Omicron may require the federal government to replenish funding for the response, the secretary of health and human services, Xavier Becerra, suggested on Tuesday. Mr. Becerra told reporters that about $10 billion was left of the $50 billion Congress had allocated for testing.

In Europe, health officials have warned of a spike in Omicron cases. According to estimates on Monday, cases of the variant in Denmark, which is similar to the United States in terms of vaccination rates and average age, were doubling every two days.

Danish researchers expected to see not just an increase in the share of infections caused by Omicron, but an overall jump in cases because of the variant’s spread. Denmark was recording around 6,000 cases a day, and the researchers estimated that Omicron would increase that number to 10,000 by the end of the week, with cases continuing to rise.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, said in a news briefing on Tuesday that “Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant.”

Dr. Tedros and senior W.H.O. officials cautioned against underestimating the variant. “Even if Omicron causes less severe cases, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems,” he said.

“Vaccines alone will not get any country out of this crisis,” he added, emphasizing the need to apply proven measures of wearing masks, practicing social distancing, ventilating rooms and hand hygiene.

Still, the priority must be to vaccinate the unvaccinated, Dr. Tedros said. “If we end inequity, we end the pandemic. If we allow inequity to continue, we allow the pandemic to continue.”

Nick Cumming-Bruce contributed reporting.

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