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Fauci: Omicron cases likely to get 'much higher,' more flights canceled

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Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Omicron COVID-19 cases will likely get "much higher" as a surge in the variant has caused airline cancellations and increased hospitalizations. File Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/UPI. | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/2369ea6981020805fba3d56261b9a532/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Omicron COVID-19 cases will likely get "much higher" as a surge in the variant has caused airline cancellations and increased hospitalizations. File Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/UPI. | License Photo

Dec. 26 (UPI) -- Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sunday warned that new cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant are likely to climb "much higher."

Data from Johns Hopkins University shows that the United States has reported 52,105,779 infections and 816,535 COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic, with the Omicron variant bringing about a surge in cases as it quickly became the dominant strain in the country.

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"Every day it goes up and up," Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC News' This Week of the U.S. case total. "The last weekly average was about 150,000 and it likely will go much higher."

The spread of the variant continued to wreak havoc on holiday travel as 2,271 flights had been canceled as of Sunday, according to flightaware.

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Delta canceled 212 flights, JetBlue 195, American Airlines 158 and United 115 as the major airlines cited staff shortages due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

A JetBlue spokesman told CNBC that the airline came into the holiday with is highest staffing levels since the beginning of the pandemic but was still forced to cancel flights amid the Omicron surge.

"Like many businesses and organizations, we have seen an increasing number of sick calls from Omicron," he said. "Despite our best efforts, we've had to cancel a number of flights, and additional flight cancellations and other delays remain a possibility as we see more Omicron community spread."

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New York on Sunday reported 36,454 new COVID-19 cases, down from a record 44,431 on Friday.

As of Sunday, 71,044 people nationwide had been hospitalized with COVID-19, drawing nearer to totals during the peak of the Delta strain when more than 100,000 people were hospitalized and some hospitals lacked available beds.

Fauci on Sunday urged Americans not to "get complacent" despite studies showing Omicron appears to be less severe in terms of causing hospitalizations, noting that a high volume of new infections "might override a real diminution in severity."

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"If you have many, many, many more people with a less level of severity, that might kind of neutralize the positive effect of having less severity when you have so many more people," he said. "And we're particularly worried about those who are in that unvaccinated class ... those are the most vulnurable ones when you have a virus that is extraordinarily effective in getting to people."

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As of Sunday, 72.7% of the U.S. population had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 61.7% have been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, 31.5% of vaccinated Americans have received an additional booster shot.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced that the White House would purchase 500 million rapid coronavirus tests that Americans will be able to order to be sent to their homes early next year.

Fauci said the United States has to improve its strategy for making at-home tests available to Americans noting that while production of these tests has been "rapidly upscaled" it is still unable to meet high demand.

"The situation where you have such a high demand, a conflation of events, Omicron stirring people to go get appropriately concerned and wanting to get tested as well as the fact of the run on tests during the holiday season -- we've obviously got to do better," he said. "I think things will improve greatly as we get into January. But that doesn't help us today and tomorrow."

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