Omicron now dominant US coronavirus strain, CDC says

That didn’t take long.

Federal health officials on Monday declared omicron the dominant coronavirus variant in the United States, citing a nearly six-fold increase in the weeks-old strain’s share of new infections in only one week.

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Specifically, the omicron variant, first detected in southern Africa in late November, accounted for 73% of new U.S. COVID-19 infections diagnosed between Dec. 12 and Dec. 18, The Washington Post reported, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Meanwhile, the CDC confirmed that the omicron variant was responsible for an estimated 90% of new infections last week in several geographic regions, including the greater New York area, the Southeast, the industrial Midwest and the Pacific Northwest.

According to CDC data, the omicron variant has rapidly dethroned the highly-transmissible delta variant as the nation’s dominant strain, which until late November accounted for more than 99.5% of U.S. COVID-19 cases.

Much about the omicron variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness. Early studies suggest that vaccinated people will need a booster shot for the best chance at preventing omicron infection; but even without the extra dose, vaccination still should offer strong protection against severe illness and death.

“All of us have a date with omicron,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told The Associated Press.

“If you’re going to interact with society, if you’re going to have any type of life, omicron will be something you encounter, and the best way you can encounter this is to be fully vaccinated,” Adalja added.

He also predicted substantial community spread of the omicron variant during holiday gatherings, including breakthrough infections among the vaccinated and severe complications among the unvaccinated that could overwhelm hospitals already strained by delta and the burgeoning flu season.

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-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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