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Omicron cases have been ‘mild,’ says CDC director, though majority so far are in the vaccinated

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 12/10/2021 Jaimy Lee
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CORONAVIRUS UPDATE

The number of people who have tested positive for omicron in the U.S. remains low, but hospitals and health officials remain on high alert as the overall number of COVID-19 cases continues to tick up and some hospitals are pressured by a growing number of cases.


Video: The AP Interview: CDC chief says omicron mostly mild so far (Associated Press)

Forty-three people in 19 states have tested positive for omicron, according to remarks made to the Associated Press by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 75% of those cases are in people who are fully vaccinated, and one person has been hospitalized. One-third of those individuals had traveled internationally; one-third had received a booster. The cases so far have been “mild,” she said. 

The U.S. reported the first case of omicron last week, in a fully vaccinated individual who had recently traveled to South Africa. 

The new variant, which was first detected in South Africa, is thought to be more infectious; however, it’s unclear if it causes more severe disease. A study in Japan showed that the omicron variant was 4.2 times more contagious than the delta strain, according to a Bloomberg report on Thursday.

Meanwhile, as overall number of cases rise, some hospitals in the U.S. are already struggling to meet the demand from COVID-19 patients.

Geisinger, a large hospital system in Pennsylvania, said it ran out of beds and patients are waiting between 10 and 20 hours in the emergency room to receive care, according to Newsweek. Michigan Medicine, a hospital in Ann Arbor, is canceling elective surgeries as its hospital beds fill up with COVID-19 patients. Vermont’s hospitalizations are at a record high.

That said, there are some new regulatory changes underway.

The FDA on Wednesday authorized the first therapy that can be used for pre-exposure prophylaxis, and the infusions may be used for some people who may not be able to gain protective antibodies through COVID-19 vaccination. AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 monoclonal antibodies can be prescribed for some individuals who are immunocompromised or have a history of severe adverse reactions to a COVID-19 vaccine.

The regulator is also expected to authorize BioNTech SE and Pfizer Inc.’s COVID-19 booster for 16 and 17-year-olds, after telling Bloomberg that it does not plan to hold an advisory committee meeting to discuss authorization of a booster in this age group.

Here’s what else you should know about COVID-19

The virus apparently attacks fat tissue, in addition to immune cells located within fat cells, according to a preprint reported on by the New York Times. “This could well be contributing to severe disease,” Dr. Catherine Blish, one of the report’s authors, told the Times. 

Health experts say that they have doubts about CDC data that says 99.9% of seniors in the U.S. have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, reports Kaiser Health News. They say that the data doesn’t match what some states are saying and what’s been reported in polls.  

The latest COVID-19 numbers

The daily average case count in the U.S. rose to 121,311 on Wednesday, the highest since Sept. 24 and a 27% increase from two weeks ago, according to the New York Times tracker. The daily average death toll is down 1,275, from 1,298, on Tuesday, but is up 12% from a week ago, while hospitalizations increased 20%, to an eight-week high of 61,936.

More than 200 million people in the U.S. are now fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. That’s 60.4% of the population. About 48.9 million people, which is one quarter of the U.S. population, has received a booster dose.

The World Health Organization said weekly COVID-19 cases continue to plateau worldwide but are increasing in Africa (by 79%) and the Americas (by 21%).

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