The Omicron variant accounted for 73% of all sequenced Covid-19 cases in the US, surging from around 3% last week, according to the latest federal estimates.
The highly mutated coronavirus strain has been detected across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a model that it updates weekly. The delta variant, which had been the dominant form of the virus in the US last week, has now receded to roughly 27% of sequenced cases.
The sizable increase in Omicron’s overall prevalence underscores fears that the rapidly spreading variant could produce a wave of infections that will strain the US health-care system. While there is evidence that Omicron doesn’t produce more severe illness than delta, a large surge in infection levels could still swamp hospitals with sick patients.
The jump in Omicron was expected and is similar to patterns seen world-wide, the CDC said. In some pockets of the US, Omicron accounts for nearly all new infections. The variant made up an estimated 92% of cases in New York and New Jersey, the CDC estimate showed, and 96% in Washington state.
The US is urging those who are eligible to get vaccinated and to seek out booster shots to ward off Omicron. On Monday, Moderna Inc. said a third dose of their vaccine increased antibody levels against the variant, and Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE have said lab studies show that a third dose of their vaccine also helps neutralize Omicron.
Other prevention measures such as masking indoors and at-home testing can also help curb transmission of the virus, CDC said.
The spread of Omicron has meanwhile forced many businesses to reconsider return-to-office plans as well as events like investor meetings. Last week, JPMorgan Chase & Co. elected to move its annual health-care conference next month online, and on Monday the World Economic Forum said that its planned meeting next month in Davos, Switzerland was postponed.
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