A spokesperson for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that the Omicron variant evading immunity could be a reason behind the percentage of New Yorkers testing positive for Covid-19 doubling in just three days this week, according to NBC New York.
“We have seen a very substantial increase in cases in the last few days,” Mr de Blasio said during a press briefing on Thursday. “It is clear that the Omicron variant is here in New York City in full force.”
The Omicron variant has been detected in 38 states, according to The New York Times.
Mr de Blasio spoke to the press alongside health officials. They noted that while the Delta variant is still the dominant virus strain in New York, the Omicron variant seems to be spreading beyond the 13 per cent share of infections that CDC officials have said the strain accounts for in New York State and New Jersey.
New York City Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi said that daily cases have tripled over the course of the last month and that the daily positivity rate is the highest it’s been in several months.
“We believe that is attributable primarily to the rise of omicron,” Dr Chokshi said.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul said during a press conference that hospitals could be overwhelmed even if Omicron turns out to be more transmissible but less deadly than the Delta variant.
“You may only have 1 per cent of people infected hospitalized versus 10 per cent from Delta, but if you have a million more people infected because it’s spread so much more quickly, that means you’ll have overflowing hospitals at this rate,” she said.
A Cornell professor and public health advisor to Mr de Blasio, Dr Jay Varma, tweeted on Thursday that “We’ve never seen this before in” in New York City. “Test positivity doubling in three days.”
He added that the virus is “evading both vaccine and virus-induced immunity against infection unlike any variant before. That’s [the] only explanation for [the] dramatic jump in positivity. [The] consensus for now (but subject to change) is that immunity against severe disease should be far better”.
According to New York City data, 6.5 per cent tested positive on 13 December, down from 7.3 per cent on 12 December.
In a study released on Thursday, British scientists found that Omicron symptoms resemble the common cold.
The ZOE Covid study analysed thousands of symptoms submitted to an app by the British public.
“As our latest data shows, Omicron symptoms are predominantly cold symptoms, runny nose, headache, sore throat and sneezing, so people should stay at home as it might well be Covid,” lead scientist Professor Tim Spector said in the report.
“Hopefully people now recognize the cold-like symptoms which appear to be the predominant feature of omicron,” he added.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Delta variant is still the dominant strain in the US, with Omicron making up about three per cent of cases nationwide.
“In some areas of the country, estimates of Omicron are even higher, including in New York and New Jersey, where CDC projects that Omicron could represent just about 13 per cent of all cases,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said this week.
“In looking at early data on [the] transmissibility of Omicron from other countries, we expect to see the proportion of Omicron cases here in the United States continue to grow in the coming weeks,” Dr Walensky added.
Federal health officials said in a briefing on Tuesday the rapid spread of the Omicron variant could result in a wave of infections hitting strained hospitals as soon as next month.
The prevalence of the variant increased seven times in one week, the CDC said, even as the Delta variant continues its own surge.
Both federal officials and some pharmaceutical executives have said they currently don’t support creating a vaccine to specifically deal with the Omicron variant, but instead saying that the current vaccines, coupled with a booster shot, offer substantial protection.
One health official said on Tuesday that the worst-case scenario would be “a triple whammy” of Omicron, Delta, and influenza outbreaks that could cripple health systems and communities, especially where few residents have been vaccinated.
“I’m a lot more alarmed. I’m worried,” the chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials Marcus Plescia said, according to The Washington Post.
He added that the CDC has told public health officials that “we got to get people ready for this”.
According to the CDC, 200 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, but only 56 million have received a booster shot.
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