It will be at least two weeks until scientists can answer key questions as to whether Omicron’s mutations make it more resistant to vaccines, more transmissible or more severe. But while the world waits for answers, US officials are reiterating that vaccinations are still the best way forward in an ongoing pandemic.
Citing “hotspots” in the western and northern portions of the state, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul warned that cases and hospitalizations are trending upward. “The winter surge may be here, or we’re just at the beginning,” she said.
New York City’s government is highly recommending that residents wear masks while indoors in public places, regardless of vaccination status, as Canada announced it found three Omicron cases in nearby provinces Ontario and Quebec.
“We do anticipate detecting the Omicron in New York in the coming days based on what we know about its global spread,” city health commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said. “A lot is still unknown about Omicron since it is so early, but studies are underway and we will know more about the variant in the coming weeks.”
Dr. Jorge E. Rodriguez, an internal medicine specialist and CNN medical analyst, says those who are unvaccinated often take longer to beat back infections and need to be inoculated.
“The virus mutates when people get infected. It doesn’t mutate in the air, so even though you’ve got infected and you did fine, guess what. You may very well have contributed to mutations that will be stronger, so there is no such thing as a good infection even if you survived it with minimal symptoms,” he said.
Get your booster, CDC urges
Previously, the agency said people should get a booster if they are 50 and older, or 18 and older and living in long term care. Otherwise, it advised that anyone 18 and older may get a booster. Now the word “should” applies to everyone 18 and older. And those unvaccinated remain at greater risk.
“I strongly encourage the 47 million adults who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to vaccinate the children and teens in their families as well, because strong immunity will likely prevent serious illness,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.
Initial doses of vaccination as well as boosters are “the best chance we’ve got to drive this Covid-19 pandemic away,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.
“We still have, of course, in the US a serious surge of the Delta variant, we should be thinking about that,” he told CNN’s Jim Sciutto Monday. “Your best protection against Delta is to get vaccinated, and if you’ve already been vaccinated and six months have passed since you got Pfizer or Moderna, get your booster, two months since J&J (Johnson & Johnson), get your booster.”
“That was a reason already, but now add Omicron to the mix,” he said. “And we do believe that this new variant, which will probably come to our shores, will also be something vaccines and boosters can help you with.”
Travel restrictions instituted as Omicron is studied
The Omicron variant has become the dominant coronavirus strain in South Africa — where scientists first discovered and reported it — less than two weeks after it was first detected. By contrast, the Delta variant took a few months to become the dominant strain there earlier this year.
Yet at least one medical expert says travel bans don’t really work to stop the spread of coronavirus variants.
“I think this is really an illusion of protection,” CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, told CNN’s Kate Bolduan Monday. “The metaphor that I have been using — it’s like locking a screen door. You feel like you’ve done something to protect yourself, but you really haven’t.”
“I’m not sure what this ban will achieve, other than to add some disincentive to other countries that might be looking to do intense sequencing and identify variants,” Reiner said. “This might incentivize those countries to maybe, you know, back off on that a little bit because no good deed goes unpunished.”
“I think we’ll get some information on transmissibility and severity in the coming days, maybe a week or two,” Van Kerkhove said, adding, “I do want to take this opportunity to thank the amazing scientists in South Africa, who were so forthright in sharing this information with us.”
CNN’s Jen Christensen, Deidre McPhillips, Kristina Sgueglia, Maggie Fox, Virginia Langmaid, Kaitlan Collins, Paula Newton, Taylor Romine and Naomi Thomas contributed to this report.
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