Healthcare

Fauci: Omicron likely dominant in US in ‘few weeks,’ warns hospitals could be ‘overwhelmed’

Anthony Fauci said Thursday that the omicron variant will likely be dominant in the U.S. in “a few weeks” and warned of the possibility of hospitals being overwhelmed this winter.

He added, though, that people who are vaccinated, and especially those who have their booster shots, will be “relatively well protected, at least against severe disease,” saying he is most worried about the unvaccinated.

The omicron variant “will assume a dominant role very soon, I would imagine within a period of a few weeks to as we go into January,” Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said during an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

He noted that even before omicron is widespread in the U.S., the delta variant is already causing about 120,000 cases and about 1,000 deaths per day, making added pressure from omicron even worse.

“Besides the toll of suffering and death which will inevitably go up if in fact we have that convergence in the winter months of flu and omicron and delta, we could get our hospital systems overwhelmed,” Fauci said, noting that health workers are already exhausted after almost two years of fighting the pandemic.

There has been some reassuring news, though, that people who get their booster shots get restored protection against omicron, and that people with two shots still could have protection at least against severe disease.

That means the risk is widely variable depending on someone’s vaccination status.

“With omicron breathing down our back, things could get really bad, particularly for the unvaccinated,” Fauci said. “The vaccinated and those who are boosted I believe will be relatively well protected, at least against severe disease.”

The Biden administration has emphasized that boosters are the best response to the new variant, and has dismissed the idea of further business closures.

Asked about business closures, Fauci said “it’s going to really depend on how well we do the interventions,” like wearing masks in indoor public settings and getting booster shots.

“If we do that, I don’t believe we’ll have to be doing any kind of shutdown with regard to businesses in your community,” he said.

He also said he does not object to family gatherings for the holidays if people are vaccinated.

Omicron is the most transmissible variant of the virus yet, with a doubling time of about three days, Fauci said. While there is some early information that it could cause less severe illness, that is not assured, he added.

Even if it does cause somewhat less severe illness on average, given its transmissibility, it could still lead to a high number of severe cases overall.

Tags Anthony Fauci Omicron variant

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