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The U.S. system was relatively slow to pick up cases of the variant, perhaps in part because of travel patterns or restrictive U.S. entrance rules. But the system is also constrained by blind spots and delays.
Last week, the C.D.C. reported that of the 43 known infections detected in the United States in the first eight days of December, 34 of the patients, or 79 percent, had been fully vaccinated when they first started showing symptoms or tested positive. Only about a third of the 43 people had traveled internationally in the two weeks before diagnosis, indicating some level of community spread of the variant.
The fight against Omicron may require the federal government to replenish funding for the response, the secretary of health and human services, Xavier Becerra, suggested on Tuesday. Mr. Becerra told reporters that about $10 billion was left of the $50 billion Congress had allocated for testing.
For public health labs, as for hospitals, staffing may be a challenge, Mr. Becker said.
“It’s the same staff who do molecular testing and genomic sequencing and flu surveillance,” he said. “We’re stretched already, so we have to begin to think about alternative plans, temporary staffing, bringing in people who helped during surge events last year.”
The Coronavirus Pandemic: Key Things to Know
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Pfizer’s Covid pill. A study of Pfizer’s oral Covid treatment confirmed that it helps stave off severe disease, even from the Omicron variant, the company announced. Pfizer said the treatment reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by 89 percent if given within three days of the onset of symptoms.
U.S. nears 800,000 deaths. The United States is on the cusp of surpassing 800,000 deaths from the virus, and no group has suffered more than older Americans. Seventy-five percent of people who have died in the U.S. have been 65 or older. One in 100 older Americans has died from the virus.
U.S. mandates. The Supreme Court refused to block New York State’s vaccine requirement for health care workers which allows medical, but not religious, exemptions. Meanwhile, a new mask mandate went into effect in New York, and California announced it would reinstate its mask mandate.
“The lab community is tired,” Mr. Becker added. “The health care community is tired. ‘Gear up, we may have another surge,’ is a tough message to hear.”
In Europe, health officials have warned of a spike in Omicron cases. According to estimates on Monday, cases of the variant in Denmark, which is similar to the United States in terms of vaccination rates and average age, were doubling every two days.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, said in a news briefing on Tuesday that “Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant.”