Fauci warns omicron variant ‘raging through the world’: COVID updates

December 19, 2021
Mary Lou Samora, a 71-year-old COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, writes on a white board Friday to communicate with her longtime friend, Becky Gonzalez.
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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.”

The CDC says the new variant has been detected in Arkansas, Kentucky, Maine and Wyoming, which means omicron is now circulating in 43 U.S. states.

Also in the news:

►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.

►The Netherlands began a nationwide lockdown this weekend as infections from the omicron variant surge. Prime Minister Mark Rutte did not outline the terms of the lockdown but said it will build on a partial lockdown already in place.

►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.

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

Indiana lawmakers prep bill to discourage company vaccine mandates

Lawmakers are once again fast-tracking a bill that could discourage Indiana companies from mandating COVID-19 vaccines, even as those in the business community and health experts are pleading with them to hit the brakes. 

Bill author Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, said lawmakers would start moving the bill on Day 1 of the 2022 legislative session in January.

“I heard it last time, I heard it this time: There are people who will be losing their jobs,” Lehman said. “There’s no time to wait.”

Republicans attempted to return for a one-day session in November to pass legislation that would enable Gov. Eric Holcomb to end the emergency declaration while keeping intact certain provisions, such as allowing for children ages 5 to 11 to get the COVID-19 vaccination outside of a doctor’s office. Lawmakers snuck a measure in the draft bill that would also severely restrict business vaccine mandates. 

– Kaitlin Lange and Shari Rudavsky, Indianapolis Star

Contributing: The Associated Press

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