The Omicron variant is spreading rapidly in the United States and could trigger a huge wave of COVID infections as early as January, according to federal health officials.
In just one week there was a sevenfold spike in the highly contagious variant’s presence across the nation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That could strain an already overworked health system in many areas as the Delta variant continues to surge.
That was the worst-case scenario presented in a new analysis discussed by agency officials during a media briefing.
The spike in Omicron cases
The early signs are worrying: From Dec. 4 to Dec. 11, the Omicron variant likely jumped from a mere 0.4 percent of new infections in the United States to 2.9 percent, according to the new CDC data. In New York and New Jersey, Omicron already accounts for 13 percent of new cases.
In the Houston Methodist hospital system, Omicron accounted for 13 percent of new cases in a four-day period leading up to Dec. 8, James Musser, chair of pathology and genomic medicine there, told the Washington Post. The Omicron variant was first detected in Houston on Nov. 29.
“We’ve had 21 months of this now, and we’re sort of — I hate to say it, because it’s tragic — but we’re sort of skilled in the art of how to handle this,” Musser adds.
In the CDC media briefing, the agency told public health officials that “we got to get people ready for this,” Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, told the Post.
He said the Omicron and Delta variants, combined with seasonal flu, could turn out to be “triple whammy” and that he’s “a lot more alarmed” after the CDC briefing.