Fauci cautiously optimistic US Covid-19 Omicron wave peaking, cases could fall

A woman receives help with a nasal swab in California on Jan 12, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES, BLOOMBERG)) President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser on Covid-19 sounded cautiously optimistic on Sunday (Jan 24) that the Omicron wave was peaking nationally in the United States and that cases could fall to manageable levels in the coming months.

"Things are looking good," Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on ABC's This Week.

"We don't want to get overconfident, but they look like they're going in the right direction right now."

That did not mean eradicating the virus, Dr Fauci said. Infections will continue.

"They're there, but they don't disrupt society," he said.

"That's the best-case scenario."

Similar to rapid rises and then declines in Omicron cases in South Africa and Britain, new cases in the US are now dropping in the North-east and upper Midwest.

"There are still some states in the Southern states and Western states that continue to go up," Dr Fauci said, "but if the pattern follows the trend that we're seeing in other places such as the North-east, I believe that you will start to see a turnaround throughout the entire country."

As at Saturday, an average of more than 705,700 new cases were being identified every day, an increase of 8 per cent over the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database.

Hospitalisations nationwide are averaging 159,500 each day, a record and an increase of about 25 per cent. Average new deaths are now 2,152 a day, up 41 per cent.

"There may be a bit more pain and suffering with hospitalisations in those areas of the country that have not been fully vaccinated or have not gotten boosted," Dr Fauci said.

Hospitals in several parts of the country are straining to keep up after multiple surges and staffing shortages, including in Mississippi, where nearly all of the state's acute-care hospitals have been pushed to capacity.

Nurses and caretakers treat a Covid-19 patient at the Sharp Grossmont Hospital in California on Jan 11, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

He advised that remaining ready for the possibility of what he called "the worst-case scenario" would be wise.

"I'm not saying it's going to happen, but we have to be prepared," he said, describing that situation as "we get yet again another variant that has characteristics that would be problematic, like a high degree of transmissibility or a high degree of virulence".

Asked about possible fourth shots for Americans, Dr Fauci said it was too early to know the durability of protection from the initial round of boosters.

On Friday, data published by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention showed that Pfizer and Moderna vaccine boosters were keeping infected Americans who had all three doses out of hospitals.

Dr Fauci also said that children wearing masks at school helped limit spread of Covid-19, as the Biden administration has urged schools to stay open for in-person instruction.

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