Omicron Covid variant in at least 15 states and cases are likely to rise, CDC chief says

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Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies during the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing titled Next Steps: The Road Ahead for the COVID-19 Response, in Dirksen Building on Thursday, November 4, 2021.
Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

At least 15 states have detected the omicron coronavirus variant and that number is expected to rise, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told ABC News on Sunday.

“We know we have several dozen cases and we’re following them closely. And we are every day hearing about more and more probable cases so that number is likely to rise,” Walensky said on “This Week.”

The variant, first discovered in South Africa, has several mutations to the spike protein that allows the virus to enter the body, and some of those mutations could lead to increased antibody resistance and transmissibility. Scientists are still collecting data on the virus and the effectiveness of current Covid-19 vaccines.

After being detected in several other countries, the U.S. reported its first omicron case on Dec. 1. While some patients had recently traveled to southern Africa, others had no travel history. That suggests that community transmission is underway.

In an effort to prevent the virus from seeding itself in the U.S., officials had at first restricted travel for non-U.S. citizens from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease official, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he hopes that ban can be lifted in a “reasonable period of time.”

Still, the vast majority of cases in the U.S. are still caused by the delta variant.

“We have about 90 to 100,000 cases a day right now in the United States, and 99.9% of them are the delta variant,” Walensky said.

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