President Joe Biden meets with chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci and members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team on the latest developments related to the Omicron coronavirus variant, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., on December 16. Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday that the Omicron variant accounted for 73% of all COVID-19 cases in the United States last week, up from less than 1% two weeks prior.
For the week ending Dec. 18, the previously dominant strain, Delta, was detected in 26.6% of all positive COVID-19 cases. The week before that, it was 87% of all cases, and was nearly 100% of all cases for weeks prior to that.
The figures illustrate the sharp rise and prevalence of the Omicron variant in the United States as overall COVID-19 cases increase. The country reported a seven-day moving average of 161,000 cases Tuesday, up from 118,000 cases a week prior. There was a seven-day moving average of 1,223 deaths Tuesday, a figure that's stayed relatively flat in December.
Meanwhile, the seven-day moving average of hospitalizations, which stands at 61,000, has been on the rise since early November.
Walensky provided the data Wednesday during the White House COVID-19 Response Team update alongside Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden's top medical adviser, and White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeffrey Zients.
The public health officials reiterated the Biden administration's push for all Americans to get vaccinated and receive booster shots to protect against COVID-19. Walensky said data indicates people who are unvaccinated are 20 times more likely to die from the virus than those who are vaccinated.
A mobile COVID-19 testing site is seen in New York City's Times Square on Tuesday. The Omicron variant is responsible for about three-quarters of all new U.S. cases, health officials say. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Fauci said that Omicron could disappear as quickly as it arrived -- in a few weeks after it reaches its peak.
"It's going to be a matter of a couple of weeks that we then start to see just as dramatic a decline," he told Good Morning America. "That's what we're hoping for."
Earlier Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration gave its first emergency use authorization to an antiviral pill to treat COVID-19 in persons over the age of 12. The pill, Paxlovid, produced by Pfizer, was shown in clinical trials to dramatically reduce the likelihood of hospitalization and death in coronavirus patients.
Zients said the U.S. government has purchased 10 million courses of the treatment, with plans to have 265,000 courses available in January.
"As quickly as Pfizer gets the pills manufactured and delivered, we will immediately provide them to states and jurisdictions for distributions," he said.
"We are not only urging states to ensure equity in their own distribution plans, but we are also distributing antiviral directly to community health centers across the country -- this will help ensure these life-saving antivirals are available to the most vulnerable communities and hard-hit populations across the country."
On Tuesday, Biden announced an update to his winter COVID-19 strategy -- includes 500 million at-home COVID-19 test kits available to Americans at no cost.
"We all want this to be over. But we're still in it," Biden said. "And this is a critical moment. We also have more tools than we have ever had before. We're ready. We'll get through this."