Omicron may spread 2x faster than delta, scientists say

The omicron variant appears to spread more than twice as quickly as delta, according to preliminary findings cited by The New York Times.

Scientists with the South African COVID-19 Modelling Consortium released findings Dec. 3 on  variant B.1.1.529's national spread. The findings have yet to be peer-reviewed. 

The researchers believe omicron's ability to rapidly spread results from both its contagiousness and ability to dodge the body's immune defenses, though it's unclear how large of a role each factor plays. 

Some of the same researchers released separate findings Dec. 2 that suggest the omicron variant can partly dodge immunity gained from prior infection. It's still unclear if or to what degree omicron may evade current vaccine protection. The analysis, published by preprint server medRxiv, examined about 2.8 million COVID-19 samples in South Africa — 35,670 of which were suspected reinfections. The new research has not yet been peer-reviewed. 

South Africa's week-over-week increase in hospital admissions is higher than any other previous waves, according to data from South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases, though it's not clear yet if omicron causes more severe illness than other COVID-19 variants.

As of Dec. 3, the U.S. has identified at least 10 omicron cases across six states, and health officials say community spread is inevitable. President Joe Biden said Dec. 3 that his new pandemic measures should be sufficient to deal with the spread of the new variant.

The variant was first identified Nov. 23 and now accounts for about three-quarters of all new COVID-19 cases in South Africa.  

 

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