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Fauci: Early data indicates Omicron less severe than Delta

Fauci: Early data indicates Omicron less severe than Delta
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, attends a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden and members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. Photo by Ting Shen/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 5 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Wednesday that early data indicate the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is less severe than other strains of the virus.

Despite weaker symptoms, the Omicron strain appears to have an increased transmissibility so the United States should continue mitigation efforts, he added.

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Fauci gave the update on the pandemic during a briefing of the White House COVID-19 Response Team.

"Multiple sources of now-preliminary data indicate a decrease severity with Omicron," he said. "However, we really do need more definitive assessment of severity with longer-term follow up here and in different countries.

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Lung infections, in particular, appear less severe with Omicron.

"It was shown that the virus of Omicron proliferates very well in the upper airway and bronchi, but actually very poorly in the lungs," Fauci said. "While this does not definitively prove Omicron is more mild, it is consistent with the variant transmitting very quickly but causing less severe lung infections."

Fauci cited multiple studies in other countries showing the decrease in risk, One study in Canada showed a 65% lower risk of hospitalization and an 83% decrease in risk of admission to the intensive care unit or death with the Omicron variant. A South African study showed about 5% of Omicron infections resulted in hospitalization, down from 14% associated with the Delta variant. Among those admitted, Omicron patients were 73% less likely to have severe infection compared to Delta patients.

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But since there has been a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases across the board, Fauci warned it was important for Americans not to let up on efforts to halt the spread of the virus, including vaccinations, mask wearing and social distancing.

The United States recorded more than 715,000 COVID-19 cases Tuesday amid a wave of cases dwarfing the previous high of 290,000 daily cases in January 2021. The daily number of deaths hasn't seen quite as dramatic of a rise in recent weeks, with nearly 2,700 reported Wednesday. The country reached a high of more than 4,000 deaths Jan. 13, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An increase in case counts, even if many are less severe, means a bigger strain on the nation's hospitals.

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"A certain proportion of a large volume of cases no matter what are going to be severe," Fauci said. "So don't take this as a signal that we can pull back from the recommendations."

The currently seven-day average of new hospitalizations from COVID-19 is 14,776, up from 9,071 the week prior, according to the CDC.

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