Top infectious diseases doctor Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that the omicron variant of the coronavirus seems to be less severe than delta, but cautioned it will take more time to get a fuller picture.

“It’s too early to be able to determine the precise severity of disease but inklings that we are getting, and we must remember these are still in the form of anecdotal … but it appears that with the cases that are seen, we are not seeing a very severe profile of disease,” Fauci said during a White House briefing. 

“In fact, it might be and I underscore might be, less severe as shown by the ratio of hospitalizations per number of new cases,” Fauci added.

But he said the low hospitalizations could be influenced by the fact that younger people are the ones getting infected, since they are less likely to be hospitalized.

Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, noted that the virus also appears more transmissible, but offered the same caveat that it’s still early.

“Real-world evidence is accumulating rapidly, literally on a daily basis, to allow us to determine increase in cases, possible increase in reproductive number and the rapid replacement of delta by omicron in certain situations,” he said.

Fauci also said data about the effectiveness of vaccines on the variant could start to be ready by the middle of next week.

The omicron variant has been found in at least 19 U.S. states and 50 countries, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Rochelle Walensky said. 

The CDC is also assisting in the contact tracing from a recent anime convention in New York City, which Walensky said “will likely provide some of the earliest looks in this country on the transmissibility of the variant.”

The Minnesota Department of Health announced last week that it had identified the nation’s second COVID-19 infection from the omicron variant in a resident who recently traveled to New York to attend the event from Nov. 19-21.

“Of the reported 53,000 people who attended that conference, more than 35,000 and counting have been contacted to encourage testing for all attendees,” Walensky said. 

But while scientists race to find out more information on omicron, cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S. are rising because of the delta variant.

The current seven day average of cases is nearly 104,000 per day, and the seven day average of hospital admissions is about 6,800 per day, Walensky said. The seven day average of daily deaths is about 1,100 per day.

“We must act in this moment to mobilize together to do what we know works. We have months of study on delta and all of those data demonstrate that vaccines work, testing works, masking works and that ventilation works,” Walensky said.

Tags Anthony Fauci CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Coronavirus coronavirus pandemic COVID-19 omicron Omicron variant Rochelle Walensky

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