Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee July 20, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Cases of COVID-19 have tripled over the past three weeks, and hospitalizations and deaths are rising among unvaccinated people. (J. Scott Applewhite-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Twenty-five states, including Colorado, had identified cases of the new omicron variant of COVID-19, federal public health officials said Friday as they released new data on the first 43 U.S. cases.
Of those initial, confirmed cases, more than half were among people between the ages of 18 and 39, according to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By Saturday the number of states had increased to 27, according to a CDC tracker map and other news outlets.
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About one-third of the infections were among individuals who recently had traveled internationally, Walensky said during a news briefing Friday. And 80%, or 34 individuals, were fully vaccinated, including some who had recently received a booster.
Most of the omicron infections so far have resulted in only mild symptoms, Walensky said, adding that’s in line with what would be expected among individuals who were fully vaccinated.
Walensky and other public health officials said early data suggests that getting a vaccine booster could bolster protection against the new variant, urging anyone who is currently eligible — including the 16- and 17-year-olds who became eligible this week — to get a follow-up shot.
While the unknowns of the new variant still loom, officials emphasized that the highly transmissible delta variant that caused the summer surge in infections still remains the main threat.
“Over 99% of cases in this country right now are caused by the delta variant, which is driving increases in cases and hospitalizations,” Walensky said.
The seven-day average of infections nationally increased by 37% over the last week, while hospitalizations increased by 16% and deaths rose by 28% over that same time period.
Those rising numbers come after families gathered for Thanksgiving last month, and many are preparing for holiday gatherings this month.
Asked for any guidance for those wondering if they should reassess holiday travel plans, Walensky said gathering together this season will require Americans to be “vigilant” about safety precautions. She reiterated the need to ensure those getting together are fully vaccinated and boosted if possible, as well as wearing masks in the weeks leading up to any gatherings and taking a COVID-19 test.
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