“In some areas of the country, the estimates of Omicron are even higher, including in New York and New Jersey, where CDC projects that Omicron could represent about 13 percent of all cases,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a COVID-19 press briefing on Dec. 15.
The new variant, which was named last month, is estimated to account for about 3 percent of infections nationwide, she said, adding that federal authorities believe Omicron is more transmissible than the Delta variant—which makes up the bulk of infections worldwide.
Meanwhile, the Delta variant remains the dominant strain in the United States, accounting for about 97 percent of all COVID-19 cases, Walensky said. According to a recent analysis of news reports, the new variant has been discovered in at least three dozen U.S. states so far.
“We have the tools to fight this virus, including Omicron. And we’re in a very different, a stronger place than we were a year ago, and there’s no need to lockdown,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said during the press briefing.
Zients said it’s likely there will be no need for lockdowns or other stay-at-home orders due to the spread of the new strain because “we know how to keep our kids in school and our businesses open” amid the pandemic.
Meanwhile, officials in South Africa have said that hospitalizations due to the Omicron variant, which was first discovered in the country, currently remain low.
“According to scientific studies, this virus is spreading quicker than in previous waves, but the rates of hospitalizations and deaths remain relatively low,” according to a statement from South Africa’s Ministry of Health that was posted on Dec. 16.
Some European countries, including the UK and France, have initiated more restrictions in recent days over the emergence of the variant. At least one death has been reported and confirmed in the UK.
A slide presentation that was displayed by the White House COVID-19 response team on Dec. 15 showed that the CDC reported about 201,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Dec. 13. It also reported a roughly 7 percent increase in hospitalizations from the week prior, the slide showed.
Health experts have posited that Omicron appears to be more transmissible than Delta, saying that it will likely become the dominant strain around the world.
But it remains to be seen whether it can cause more severe disease since it was designated as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Nov. 26.
At least “77 countries have now reported cases of Omicron,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, told reporters on Dec. 15. “The reality is that Omicron is probably in most countries, even if it hasn’t been detected yet.”