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First data on omicron Covid variant's severity is 'encouraging,' Fauci says
Preliminary data is starting to emerge that could give us a clearer picture of what we're dealing with as experts pore over early omicron observations.
The White House's Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Sunday that early data was "encouraging," but cautioned that more data was needed to fully understand the variant.
The World Health Organization designated the new omicron Covid variant as being "of concern" less than two weeks ago.
Preliminary data about the severity of the omicron Covid variant is "a bit encouraging," the White House's Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Sunday, following early figures from South Africa that suggest it may not be as bad as initially feared.
However, Fauci cautioned that more data was needed to draw a complete picture of omicron's risk profile. The World Health Organization said the variant was "of concern" on Nov.26, prompting a flurry of international travel bans and new Covid restrictions.
"Clearly, in South Africa, omicron has a transmission advantage," Fauci told CNN, adding that "although it's too early to make any definitive statements about it, thus far it does not look like there's a great degree of severity to it."
"But we've really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe, or really doesn't cause any severe illness comparable to delta, but thus far the signals are a bit encouraging regarding the severity," Fauci said.
At least 15 U.S. states have detected the omicron variant, as of Sunday, and that number is expected to rise, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told ABC News this weekend.
It comes as South Africa sees a rise in Covid cases attributed to the omicron variant, as well as an uptick in hospitalizations. Given the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the omicron Covid variant, experts are watching the real-world data coming out of South Africa closely.
A report from the South African Medical Research Council, released Saturday, suggests that the strain could cause a milder infection. It's too early to tell whether it poses a greater risk of death, however, given the relatively small amount of data and how recently the variant was detected.
The report also revealed that more younger people were being admitted to hospital with omicron Covid infections, but this could be related to lower rates of vaccination among such age groups in South Africa.
The document details the situation over the last two weeks at the Steve Biko/Tshwane District Hospital Complex in the Gauteng province where omicron was first detected, and which is now seeing a rampant rise in Covid cases.
The main observation in the report was that the majority of patients were not oxygen-dependent (as was common in previous waves, the report stated) and that most of the patients in the Covid wards were "incidental Covid admissions," having had another medical or surgical reason for admission to hospital.