CDC: Omicron now a majority of US COVID-19 cases — 73 percent
The omicron variant now makes up a majority of COVID-19 cases in the United States, at 73.2 percent, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in updated figures released on Monday.
The statistics are for the week ending Dec. 18 and show the rapid spread of the variant in the U.S. That spike is a significant increase from just 12.6 percent of cases one week earlier.
The omicron variant is highly transmissible, and officials are bracing for a large wave of infections in the coming weeks. However, people who are vaccinated, and especially those with booster shots, are well protected against severe disease from the variant, experts say, meaning the greatest risk is for the unvaccinated.
President Biden will give a speech on Tuesday to update the nation on his plans for fighting the variant.
The White House has emphasized that given the widespread availability of vaccines and booster shots there is no need to have business closures and lockdowns like there were last year.
“This is not a speech about locking the country down,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. “This is a speech outlining and being direct and clear with the American people about the benefit of being vaccinated, the steps we’re going to take to increase access and to increase testing and the risks posed to unvaccinated individuals.”
Reports of long lines for testing and pharmacies sold out of rapid tests have surfaced ahead of the holidays and as the variant spreads.
The White House took some criticism from experts in recent weeks for a plan to allow people to be reimbursed for rapid tests through their private health insurance, given that people would still have to pay an upfront cost, and the tests can still be hard to find.
It is unclear exactly what Biden will announce on testing on Tuesday.
The omicron variant has some ability to evade the protection of vaccines, particularly in causing infection in people who have not been boosted. That means breakthrough infections are becoming more common. But the vaccines are still expected to protect against severe disease, and boosters can restore protection even against infection, meaning that vaccinated people are much better protected against the most harmful outcomes than unvaccinated people are.
Experts are urging all adults to get their booster shots.
This story was updated at 6:18 p.m.