America has recorded its first death caused by the COVID Omicron variant, with the victim a Texas man in his 50s who was unvaccinated and had already been infected before.
The news was announced by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Monday night, around the same time the Centers for Disease Control confirmed that Omicron is now the dominant COVID strain in the US, accounting for 73 per cent of all new cases.
Hidalgo did not name the victim, who had undisclosed underlying health conditions, and who was treated with Regeneron antibody therapy in an unsuccessful attempt to save his life.
Harris County health department said his death showed the importance of getting vaccinated, even if you have already been infected.
‘My phone was ringing, and it was the public health director telling me we just had our first Omicron-related death,’ she said.
‘A man in his 50s, resides in Harris County Precinct 2. I know for folks in Harris County this feels like whiplash… It is so frustrating. I feel it too. I understand the impulse to just tune out the latest news and be sick and tired of all of this, but as we’ve been expecting, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has arrived in full force.’
Hidalgo said that ‘the evidence shows that for those vaccinated and with the booster, it is much, much less likely that they are going to end up in the hospital’.
On the other side of the country, Vermont is starting to bounce back from a surge as well.
Only weeks removed from setting a new record for daily hospitalizations, the state is now recording a 13 per cent decrease in hospitalizations along with a six per cent decrease in cases.
Surges in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island are still ongoing, with cases still rising, but the rate of growth has slowed in recent days, showing the surge could be burning out.
These data match that of South Africa, the nation where the variant was first detected, COVID is beginning to recede, a promising sign that the nation’s Omicron fueled outbreak is running out of steam after a month.
President Joe Biden will address the nation on Tuesday about the new COVID surge.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said his address is ‘not a speech about locking the country down,’ but will focus on a drive for vaccinations.
‘This is not a speech about locking the country down,’ she said on Monday.
‘This is a speech outlining and being direct and clear with the American people about the benefits of being vaccinated, the steps we’re going to take to increase access and to increase testing, and the risks posed to being unvaccinated.
‘He’ll talk about what to expect as we head into the winter months and detail additional steps that we will be taking.’
Previewing the speech, she continued: ‘The president will restate that while vaccinated individuals get covid due to the highly transmissible nature of Omicron, their cases will likely be mild or asymptomatic.
‘We continue to see and our health experts assess that you are 14 times more likely to die of COVID if you have not been vaccinated.’
The press secretary said Biden will continue the tough talk for those who choose to remain unvaccinated.
‘For those who choose to remain unvaccinated, he’ll issue a stark warning and make clear unvaccinated individuals will continue to drive hospitalizations and deaths.
‘He’s not trying to scare people: maybe it is trying to make clear to people the risks of not being vaccinated.’
Over the weekend, the nation eclipsed 1,000 cases of the strain, with 221 infections being recorded between Sunday and early Monday morning.
The country has now joined a dubious group of five countries with more than 1,000 cases of the new variant, reaching 1,079 as of Monday morning – a 25 percent increase from the 858 cases confirmed on Sunday morning.
It comes as experts begin to learn more about the variant, which was first discovered late last month in
Omicron is the most mutated COVID strain yet, with over 50 mutations total – including 30 on its spike protein.
Early data shows it can evade protection provided by all three available COVID vaccines, though getting a booster shot can significantly shore up a person’s protection against infection.
No matter the variant, COVID is spiraling out of control in the U.S., though the growth of cases has slightly slowed over the past week.
As of Monday morning, 133,012 Americans are testing positive for Covid every day, a 21 per cent increase over the past two weeks.
Many Americans are waiting in hours-long lines for COVID-19 tests, as shelves where at-home tests once were remain bare in pharmacies across the country.
Still, Americans tired of two years of worry are forging ahead with travel plans, as 109 million are expected to travel between December 23 and January 2.
Over the past three days, the Transportation Security Administration has screened more than two million passengers each day at airports nationwide, double the number of screenings carried out this time in 2020.
Psaki said that Biden on Tuesday will ‘absolutely’ address frustrations Americans feel about a lack of testing availability across the country.
Asked if the White House feels it is doing enough right now on testing, she said: We always feel we need to be doing more.’
Meanwhile, White House chief of staff Ron Klain doubled down on the White House’s doomsday warning for the unvaccinated on Monday.
‘We are intent on not letting Omicron disrupt work and school for the vaccinated. You’ve done the right thing, and we will get through this,’ said White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients in a press briefing.
‘For the unvaccinated, you’re looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm.’
‘Who is this for? Unvaccinated Americans are not going to be persuaded by messaging like this,’ New York Magazine writer Olivia Nuzzi questioned on Twitter.
‘The truth is the truth,’ Klain wrote back.
Republicans were quick to criticize the dire message from the White House.
‘This is what Joe Biden has given America, a climate of fear and recrimination – all to augment his power and cover over his epic failures of leadership,’ Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., wrote on Twitter.
‘We are all in this together unless you are in the outgroup in which case you gonna die,’ wrote Federalist publisher Ben Domenech.
”They deserve to die.’ – President of the United States,’ Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, wrote on Twitter.
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Source: Daily Mail
Omicron Sweeps Across Nation, Now 73% of New US Coronavirus Plague Cases
NEW YORK (AP) — Omicron has raced ahead of other variants and is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S., accounting for 73% of new infections last week, federal health officials said Monday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers showed nearly a six-fold increase in omicron’s share of infections in only one week.
In much of the country, it’s even higher. Omicron is responsible for an estimated 90% or more of new infections in the New York area, the Southeast, the industrial Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. The national rate suggests that more than 650,000 omicron infections occurred in the U.S. last week.
Since the end of June, the delta variant had been the main version causing U.S. infections. As recently as the end of November, more than 99.5% of coronaviruses were delta, according to CDC data.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the new numbers reflect the kind of growth seen in other countries.
“These numbers are stark, but they’re not surprising,” she said.
Scientists in Africa first sounded the alarm about omicron less than a month ago and on Nov. 26 the World Health Organization designated it as a “variant of concern.” The mutant has since shown up in about 90 countries.
Much about the omicron variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness. Early studies suggest the vaccinated will need a booster shot for the best chance at preventing omicron infection but even without the extra dose, vaccination still should offer strong protection against severe illness and death.
“All of us have a date with omicron,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “If you’re going to interact with society, if you’re going to have any type of life, omicron will be something you encounter, and the best way you can encounter this is to be fully vaccinated.”
Adalja said he was not surprised by the CDC data showing omicron overtaking delta in the U.S., given what was seen in South Africa, the U.K. and Denmark. He predicted spread over the holidays, including breakthrough infections among the vaccinated and serious complications among the unvaccinated that could stress hospitals already burdened by delta.
Dr. Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said other countries had seen omicron’s fast growth, but the U.S. data showed “a remarkable jump in such a short time.”
Topol also said it’s unclear how much milder omicron really is compared with other variants.
“That’s the big uncertainty now,” Topol said. “We have to count on it being a lot of hospitalizations and a lot severe disease from omicron.”
CDC’s estimates are based on thousands of coronavirus specimens collected each week through university and commercial laboratories and state and local health departments. Scientists analyze their genetic sequences to determine which versions of the COVID-19 viruses are most abundant.
On Monday, the CDC revised its estimate for omicron cases for the week that ended Dec. 11, after analyzing more samples. About 13% of the cases that week were from omicron, not the 3% previously reported. The week before, omicron accounted for just 0.4% of cases.
CDC officials said they do not yet have estimates of how many hospitalizations or deaths are due to omicron.
Though there remain a lot of new infections caused by the delta variant, “I anticipate that over time that delta will be crowded out by omicron,” Walensky said.
Associated Press writers Lauran Neergaard and Carla K. Johnson contributed to this report.
The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Coronavirus Plague fears widen as omicron variant takes hold across US
BOSTON (AP) — The nation’s second-largest city called off its New Year’s Eve celebration Monday, and its smallest state re-imposed an indoor mask mandate as the omicron variant leaped ahead of other variants to become the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S.
The moves in Los Angeles and Rhode Island reflected widening fears of a potentially devastating winter COVID-19 surge. Much of the concern is being driven by omicron, which federal health officials announced accounted for 73% of new infections last week, a nearly sixfold increase in only seven days.
Omicron’s prevalence is even higher in some parts of the U.S. It’s responsible for an estimated 90% of new infections in the New York area, the Southeast, the industrial Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, federal officials said.
The announcement underscored the variant’s remarkable ability to race across oceans and continents. It was first reported in southern Africa less than a month ago.
Scientists say omicron spreads more easily than other coronavirus strains, including delta, though many details about it remain unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness. But even if it is milder, the new variant could still overwhelm health systems because of the sheer number of infections.
Organizers of the New Year’s Eve party planned for Grand Park in downtown LA nixed plans for an in-person audience, saying the event will be livestreamed instead, as it was last year. In Rhode Island, which has the most new cases per capita over the last two weeks, masks or proof of vaccination will be required in most indoor establishments for at least the next 30 days.
And in Boston, the city’s new Democratic mayor announced to howls of protests that anyone entering a restaurant, bar or other indoor business will need to show proof of vaccination, starting next month. City employees will also be required to get vaccinated.
“There is nothing more American than coming together to ensure that we’re taking care of each other,” Mayor Michelle Wu said at City Hall as protesters loudly blew whistles and shouted “Shame on Wu.”
Erika Rusley, a 44-year-old Providence, Rhode Island, resident, says recent events prompted her family to pump the brakes on everyday activities.
The elementary school teacher and her physician husband pulled their two young daughters from swim lessons this week, limited their play dates and canceled medical appointments, even though the whole family is fully vaccinated.
“The past week or so we’ve really just shut things down. It’s just not worth it,” Rusley said. “We’re back to where we were pre-summer, pre-vaccine. It’s square one, almost.”
In New York City, where a spike in infections is already scuttling Broadway shows and causing long lines at testing centers, Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to decide this week whether the city’s famous New Year’s Eve bash in Times Square will come back “full strength” as he promised in November.
North of the border, the Canadian province of Quebec imposed a 10 p.m. closing time for restaurants, banned spectators from sporting events and shuttered gyms and schools and mandated remote work.
Across the Atlantic, the World Economic Forum announced Monday that it would again delay its annual meeting of world leaders, business executives and other elites in Davos, Switzerland.
But in Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday that officials decided against imposing further restrictions, at least for now.
The conservative government re-imposed face masks in shops and ordered people to show proof of vaccination at nightclubs and other crowded venues earlier this month. It is weighing curfews and stricter social distancing requirements.
“We will have to reserve the possibility of taking further action to protect the public,” he said. “The arguments either way are very, very finely balanced.”
Johnson’s warning throws into stark relief the unpalatable choice government leaders face: wreck holiday plans for millions for a second consecutive year, or face a potential tidal wave of cases and disruption.
In the U.S., President Joe Biden planned to address the nation on the latest variant on Tuesday, less than a year after he suggested that the country would essentially be back to normal by Christmas.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president would issue a “stark warning” and make clear that unvaccinated individuals “will continue to drive hospitalizations and deaths,” she said.
U.S. vaccine maker Moderna announced Monday that lab tests suggested that a booster dose of its vaccine should offer protection against omicron. Similar testing by Pfizer on its vaccine also found that a booster triggered a big jump in omicron-fighting antibodies.
The country is averaging nearly 130,500 new COVID-19 cases a day, up from about 122,000 a day two weeks ago, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
In Texas, a hospital system in Houston reports that omicron already accounts for 82% of new symptomatic COVID-19 cases it is treating, a dramatic increase from Friday, when testing showed it was responsible for just 45% of the system’s cases.
But in Missouri, an early epicenter of the delta surge, the variant still accounts for 98% to 99% of COVID-19 samples, according to the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services.
Meanwhile, hospitals in Ohio have postponed elective surgeries, while governors in Maine and New Hampshire have sent in National Guard reinforcements to help beleaguered hospital staff in recent days.
In Kansas, rural hospitals are struggling to transfer patients, with some left stranded in emergency rooms for a week while they wait for a bed. Overwhelmed hospitals as far away as Minnesota and Michigan have been calling looking for beds in larger Kansas hospitals. Often there simply isn’t room.
“It’s already as crazy as it can be when you are talking about moving people from Minnesota to Kansas City for treatment,” Dr. Richard Watson, founder of Motient, a company contracting with Kansas to help manage transfers, said Friday.
Still, many political leaders are reluctant to impose the stiff measures they resorted to earlier in the pandemic.
France is desperately trying to avoid a new lockdown that would hurt the economy and cloud President Emmanuel Macron’s expected re-election campaign. The government in Paris, however, has banned public concerts and fireworks displays at New Year’s celebrations.
Ireland has imposed an 8 p.m. curfew on pubs and bars and limited attendance at indoor and outdoor events, while Greece will have 10,000 police officers on duty over the holidays to carry out COVID-19 pass checks.
For Rusley’s family in Rhode Island, the news is worrying, but not enough to deter them from a trip to Denver to visit her husband’s family.
They fly out after Christmas, but have decided they will spend extended time indoors only with vaccinated people this holiday season, something they would not have considered just a few months ago.
“We’ve been here before, and we know how to do this,” Rusley said. “We’re not going to be hiding in our house, but at the same time, we’re not going to be taking unnecessary risks.”
Lawless reported from London. Associated Press writers Colleen Long in Washington; John Antczak in Los Angeles; Mark Pratt in Boston; Juan Lozano in Houston; Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas; Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho; Rob Gillies in Toronto; Geir Moulson in Berlin; Aritz Parra in Madrid; Barry Hatton in Lisbon and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed to this story.
Follow all AP stories on the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.