1 of 5 | Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sunday warned that the Omicron COVID-19 variant is "going to take over" urging Americans to get vaccinated and boosted against the virus. Photo by Tasos Katopodis/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 19 (UPI) -- The Omicron variant will likely place a strain on U.S. health care systems and necessitate the continuation of measures to prevent the spread of the virus, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN's State of the Union that the highly infectious variant is "going to take over" as he urged Americans to get vaccinated, get their booster shots and be mindful amid holiday travel.
"Be prudent in everything else you do: When you travel in your indoor settings that congregate, wear a mask," he said.
Since the first case of Omicron in the United States was reported on Dec. 1, cases of the variant have been identified in 45 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.
The World Health Organization has said Omicron cases are doubling every 1.5 to three days, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that it is expected to become the dominant strain of the virus in the United States.
Amid the presence of Omicron, the United States was averaging 126,967 new COVID-19 cases per day as of Saturday adding to its world-leading totals of 50,798,209 infections and 806,344 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University.
New York reported a record daily increase in cases on Saturday with 21,908 new infections along with 3,909 hospitalizations and 59 deaths, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Twitter.
"This is not like the beginning of the pandemic. We are prepared for the winter surge because we have the tools at our disposal," Hochul said. "Getting vaccinated and getting the booster and wearing a mask are critical to avoiding getting seriously ill from COVID-19 so don't take a chance."
Hospitalizations have also been on the rise with the CDC reporting a 7,814 7-day average in new hospitalizations from Dec.8-Dec. 14, an increase in 4.4% over the previous week. The agency reported a total of 3,529,651 total new admissions during that period.
Scientists are still working to determine whether Omicron cases are milder or at least as severe as other variants but Fauci said the variant has 50 mutations from the original strain of SARS-CoV-2 with most of them in the spike protein, or the part of the virus that binds to cells.
"To me, that's really quite unprecedented so that's something you would not have anticipated," Fauci said.
Fauci added that expanding the availability of rapid at-home COVID-19 tests would be a useful tool to combat the rapid spread of Omicron.
"We really need to flood the system with testing. We need to have tests available for anyone who wants them particularly more in a situation right now when people are going to be gathering," he said. "Even though they are vaccinated and boosted, they may want to go that extra step, that extra mile."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was dismissive of the idea of mailing rapid tests to Americans during a briefing earlier this month.
"Then what happens if you -- if every American has one test? How much does that cost, and then what happens after that?"
President Joe Biden is set to deliver a speech describing his administration's response to the COVID-19 surge and offer a "stark warning" for unvaccinated Americans on Tuesday, as top health officials have reportedly discussed shifting the White House's messaging to focus on severe instead of overall cases.
Officials reportedly aren't considering lockdowns, but are instead looking at shoring up resources in areas with low vaccination rates.
To date 241,205,528 people, or 72.7% of the U.S. population have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 203,727,446 people, or 61.4% of the population are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Among fully vaccinated Americans, 29.1% have received an additional booster shot.