The new Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 speeding around the world may bring another wave of chaos, threatening to further stretch hospital workers already struggling with a surge of Delta cases and upend holiday plans for the second year in a row.
The White House on Wednesday insisted there was no need for a lockdown because vaccines are widely available and appear to offer protection against the worst consequences of the virus.
“Our Delta surge is ongoing and, in fact, accelerating. And on top of that, we’re going to add an omicron surge,” said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, who monitors variants for a research collaboration led by Harvard Medical School.
“That’s alarming, because our hospitals are already filling up. Staff are fatigued,” leaving limited capacity for a potential crush of COVID-19 cases “from an Omicron wave superimposed on a Delta surge.”
Based on specimens collected last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Omicron accounted for about 3% of genetically-sequenced coronaviruses. Percentages vary by region, with the highest — 13% — in the New York/New Jersey area. But Harvard experts say these are likely underestimates because Omicron is moving so fast that surveillance attempts can’t keep up.