Less than a month after it was first detected in southern Africa—and less than three weeks after the first US case was confirmed—the omicron variant is now the dominant COVID strain in the US, authorities say. Federal officials said Monday that according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures, the variant accounted for an estimated 73% of COVID infections in the US last week, and around 90% in areas including the Pacific Northwest, the Southeast, and the New York City area, the AP reports. Two weeks ago, the CDC said omicron made up around 1% of US cases, which rose to 13% the following week, reports the New York Times.
The formerly dominant delta variant now accounts for only around 26% of new infections in the US, according to the CDC's estimates. Authorities believe omicron is two to three times more transmissible than delta. Experts say it is also more likely to overcome vaccines, though vaccination should still prevent serious illness and death. "All of us have a date with omicron,” warned Dr. Amesh Adalja at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "If you’re going to interact with society, if you’re going to have any type of life, omicron will be something you encounter, and the best way you can encounter this is to be fully vaccinated," Adalja said.
COVID surges have led to the reintroduction of mask mandates and other restrictions in numerous states, especially in the Northeast. North of the border, Quebec shifted to a semi-lockdown Monday amid what authorities called "astounding" community spread, the CBC reports. Bars, gyms, and cinemas will be closed, and for students in the province, the return from the Christmas break will be delayed for at least a week. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that when President Biden addresses the nation Tuesday, it will be a "stark warning" about the dangers of being unvaccinated, not a "speech about locking the country down," the Washington Post reports. (Hospitals in Ohio have one word for the public: "Help.")