The Omicron variant of concern (VOC) has become the predominant variant across North America and Europe, while the rest of the world braces for the eventual takeover. The WHO announced on December 18 that 89 countries have now reported Omicron within their borders, with high likelihood that cases are in many other countries but have simply not yet been confirmed. While the Delta VOC previously overtook other circulating variants to become the predominant SARS-CoV-2 variant, Omicron’s rise in these regions occurred precipitously, within 1 month after it was first reported in South Africa on November 24. While preliminary data out of South Africa indicated that infection with the Omicron variant was less likely to lead to hospitalization, the sheer number of cases resulting from the highly transmissible variant appear to be causing significant healthcare strain and societal disruption.
In the US, Omicron now accounts for 73.2% of the total number of SARS-CoV-2 infections, compared to 1 week ago when it accounted for only 12.6% of all infections. As of December 20, 48 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC, have reported cases of Omicron; South Dakota and Oklahoma have yet to report cases. This rapid increase in Omicron cases has startled public health officials. With cases currently doubling every 1.5 to 3 days, healthcare facilities are bracing for a surge in hospitalizations, with some regions already experiencing these challenges. In the Northeast, where cases are currently surging, states like Rhode Island and Maine are reporting that their hospitals are being strained to their limits. As community members seek medical care in high numbers, healthcare staff are also testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, further exacerbating the strain on resources. Some states are activating their National Guards to help bolster medical, testing, and vaccination efforts. With testing lines wrapping around city blocks and holiday travel quickly approaching, public health officials are urging all who are able to get fully vaccinated and receive their booster shots. President Joe Biden is set to address the nation tonight and is expected to announce plans to supply free tests and more aid for hospitals.
CSSE is reporting 50,149,019 positive cases in the U.S. and 808,244 deaths