Coronavirus Update: Dr. Fauci and What we know about the omicron variant

Coronavirus update: What we know from the CDC about the Omicron variant, COVID-19 symptoms, and protecting against the spread

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Friday, December 17, 2021
Fauci warns unvaccinated are most vulnerable to Omicron
Eyewitness News anchor Liz Cho talked to Dr. Anthony Fauci about the rise of Omicron

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- In an interview with Eyewitness News, Dr. Anthony Fauci urged people to get vaccinated and get a booster to protect against the Omicron variant.

"The unvaccinated are really quite vulnerable to getting infected and getting into serious trouble," Dr. Fauci said.

Fauci told Eyewitness News anchor Liz Cho that boosting with the current vaccines is the best path to protect against severe disease. Fauci said while there is always risk of breakthrough cases, those infections should not lead to severe illness.

"New York is in a very interesting situation. You probably have a much higher percentage of omicron already than most of the locations in the rest of the country," he said.

Regarding the holidays, Fauci said people who are vaccinated and boosted should feel comfortable getting together and traveling.

"You are really in a relatively safe zone. Not a completely risk-free zone, but relatively safe," he said.

Fauci advised if you are traveling, wear a mask.

Alarmed by the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases and the increasing prevalence of the omicron variant, New York City and the Tri-State are taking action to try to curb the spread.

Federal health officials are estimating that the variant already accounts for around 13% of virus cases in New York and New Jersey.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday it's clear omicron is "in full force" and spreading.

Cases per capita by vaccination status:

In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy said on Friday that more cases of omicron are emerging in the state, but he doesn't know how many and since "sequences as a general matter is lagging for Omicron" and they are likely "much higher than the sequencing suggests."

Regarding new measures to combat the spread, Murphy said "everything is on the table."

Here's what we know from the CDC about the omicron variant, COVID-19 symptoms, and protecting against the spread:

How easily does Omicron spread?

The omicron variant likely will spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and how easily Omicron spreads compared to Delta remains unknown. CDC expects that anyone with Omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don't have symptoms.

Will omicron cause more severe illness?

More data are needed to know if omicron infections, and especially reinfections and breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated, cause more severe illness or death than infection with other variants.

Will vaccines work against omicron?

Current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the omicron variant. However, breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated are likely to occur. With other variants, like Delta, vaccines have remained effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. The recent emergence of omicron further emphasizes the importance of vaccination and boosters.

Will treatments work against omicron?

Scientists are working to determine how well existing treatments for COVID-19 work. Based on the changed genetic make-up of Omicron, some treatments are likely to remain effective while others may be less effective.

Protection against omicron

COVID-19 Vaccines

Officials are urging people to get urged people to get vaccinated, including boosters, before traveling for the holidays and attending festive gatherings.

The preliminary data about omicron and vaccines is revealing lower vaccine effectiveness. Best estimates suggest vaccines are around 30%-40% effective at preventing infections and 70% effective at preventing severe disease.

Initial data reinforces that a third dose would help boost immune response and protection against omicron, with estimates of 70%-75% effectiveness.

Pfizer has reported that people who have received two doses of its vaccine are susceptible to infection from omicron, but that a third shot improves antibody activity against the virus. This was based on lab experiments using the blood of people who have received the vaccine.

Booster doses can increase the amount of antibodies and the ability of a person's immune system to protect against omicron.

CDC recommends that everyone 5 years and older protect themselves from COVID-19 by getting fully vaccinated. CDC recommends that everyone ages 18 years and older should get a booster shot at least two months after their initial J&J/Janssen vaccine or six months after completing their primary COVID-19 vaccination series of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.

Wearing masks

CDC continues to recommend wearing a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission, regardless of vaccination status.

One million N95 masks will be distributed for free through New York City's Test & Trace Corps, community based organizations and clinics. The 500,000 free at-home tests will similarly be distributed through community organizations, the mayor said.

COVID-19 Testing

Tests done by a provider or at-home can tell you if you are infected with COVID-19. Additional tests would be needed to determine if the infection was caused by the omicron variant.

New York City is increase testing capacity with more mobile sites and a doubling down on brick and mortar sites, along with creating new fixed sites an expanding hours of operation. A half-million at home rapid tests will be distributed for free.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul also said an online site would be set up where residents could ask for at-home tests to be sent to them, in targeted ways.

NYC COVID death rates by vaccination status:

What are COVID symptoms?

According to the CDC, people with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported - ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Anyone can have mild to severe symptoms. People with these symptoms may have COVID-19:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • This list does not include all possible symptoms.

    Older adults and people who have severe underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness.

    For more information about COVID-19 and the variants, please visit the CDC's website.

    Information from the Centers for Disease Control and the Associated Press

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