Early data from the US and abroad make two things clear about the omicron variant of the coronavirus. "We know now, incontrovertibly, that this is a highly, highly transmissible virus," Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday. And "all indications point to a lesser severity of omicron versus delta." Fauci made the comments to reporters at a White House briefing, the Hill reports. He referred to a University of Edinburgh working paper that sees the risk of hospitalization from omicron as two-thirds lower than it is with delta, per Axios.
COVID-19 infections are increasing at a much higher rate than hospitalizations in the US. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday that the seven-day daily average is running about 240,400 cases, 60% higher than the week before. The seven-day average for hospitalizations is about 9,000 per day, 14% above the previous week. The difference could be attributable to the fact that "hospitalizations tend to lag behind cases by about two weeks," she said, or it could mean omicron is causing less serious illnesses—"especially among the vaccinated."
The far higher number of cases caused by omicron could mute the advantage of omicron illnesses being milder, Fauci said. About children, especially, he said, it's too soon to draw conclusions. "More children are being infected with the highly transmissible virus and with that, there naturally will be more hospitalizations in children," he said. Data from the CDC and Department of Health and Human Services show hospital admissions of children with COVID at a daily average of 334 for week that ended Dec. 27. (Read more COVID-19 stories.)