WASHINGTON, Dec 5 (Reuters) - The Omicron variant of the
coronavirus has spread to about one-third of U.S. states, but
the Delta version remains the majority of COVID-19 infections as
cases rise nationwide, U.S. health officials said on Sunday.
Though the emergence of the new variant has caused alarm
worldwide, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease
official, told CNN "thus far it does not look like there's a
great degree of severity to it." He added that it was too early
to draw definitive conclusions and that more study is needed.
Fauci, U.S. President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser,
said he also hoped the United States would lift its ban on
travelers from southern African countries in a "reasonable
period of time."
The South African government has complained it is being
punished - instead of applauded - for discovering the new
variant and quickly informing international health officials.
Fauci, in an interview on CNN's "State of the Union,"
praised South Africa for its transparency and said the U.S.
travel ban was imposed at a time "when we were really in the
dark" and needed time to study the variant.
At least 16 U.S. states have reported Omicron cases:
California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland,
Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New
York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin, according to
a Reuters tally.
Many of the cases were among fully vaccinated individuals
with mild symptoms, although the booster shot status of some
patients was not reported.
Despite several dozen Omicron cases, the Delta variant still
accounts for 99.9% of new COVID cases in the United States https://tmsnrt.rs/2WTOZDR,
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told ABC News in an
"We are everyday hearing about more and more probable cases
so that number is likely to rise," she said.
The United States over the last seven days has averaged
119,000 new cases a day and lost nearly 1,300 lives to COVID
each day, according to a Reuters tally https://tmsnrt.rs/3xYOdI4.
Louisiana currently has one Omicron case from an individual
who traveled within the United States, its health department
said on Sunday.
On Saturday, it said a Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd
cruise ship set to dock in New Orleans with more than
3,000 passengers found 10 cases of COVID-19 on board.
Officials said passengers on the Norwegian Breakaway, which
stopped in Belize, Honduras and Mexico, would be tested and
given the CDC's post-exposure and quarantine
The emergence of the new variant has sharply curtailed the
number of energy executives and government ministers planning to
attend the four-day World Petroleum Congress in Houston this
week, which had already been rescheduled from 2020.
But travel restrictions and worries over the new variant saw
energy ministers from Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Qatar,
Argentina, Equatorial Guinea, Greece, Turkey and Romania - bowed
out, WPC officials said on Sunday.
Governors of two states with reported Omicron cases --
Connecticut and Colorado -- said they hoped their
higher-than-average vaccination rates would blunt the impact.
"We want to see how well the vaccinations hold up,"
Colorado's Jared Polis told ABC.
As U.S. Omicron cases emerge, COVID-19 vaccine makers aim to
quickly tweak their shots to target the variant and U.S.
regulators have vowed speedy reviews, but that could still take
"Certainly, FDA (Food and Drug Administration) will move
swiftly and CDC will move swiftly," Walensky said.
Moderna Inc has targeted U.S. approval of an
updated vaccine as soon as March, but company officials on
Sunday said it will still take time to increase output.
Moderna Co-founder and Chairman Noubar Afeyan told CNN it
would take another seven to 10 days to gather key data. Then, it
"will take a good 60 to 100 days" to deploy an Omicron-specific
shot, although other options like a higher dose of the current
booster are being explored, he said.
U.S. government officials are also working with Pfizer Inc
and Johnson & Johnson on updated shots, while
Pfizer and Merck & Co Inc are pursuing COVID-19 pill
(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick and Susan Heavey; Additional
reporting by Dan Whitcomb
Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Diane Craft)