Harvard Scientists See Dual-Variant Surge Threatening Hospitals
(Bloomberg) -- A double-barreled surge of omicron- and delta-fueled Covid-19 threatens to further burden hospitals that are already cracking under the pandemic strain, and it’s already clear that unmasked indoor gatherings are unwise right now, Harvard researchers warned.
“We may be at the cusp of the omicron surge,” Harvard Medical School infectious disease specialist Jacob Lemieux said Tuesday in a virtual press briefing, “and the surge that is going to unfold over the holidays is likely going to be a mixed delta and omicron surge.”
The vast majority of U.S.-sequenced Covid cases, about 96%, remain attributable to delta, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with omicron accounting for about 3%. However, omicron’s proportion of cases has been rising steeply over the past two weeks, and that figure is likely an underestimate, according to Bronwyn MacInnis, director of pathogen genomic surveillance at the Harvard-affiliated Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The CDC estimate, “just feels like a million years ago,” she said in the briefing.
People should avoid dense indoor gatherings where people aren’t wearing masks, researchers said at the briefing held by the Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness. It remains unclear whether rapid antigen tests reliably detect omicron infections, and time-tested public health tactics including vaccination, masking, and distancing should be followed, they said.
Researchers on the call said they have recently -- painfully -- changed their plans for holiday gatherings in order to protect vulnerable family members and the community.
“Omicron is moving extraordinarily fast -- faster even than the most pessimistic among us thought that it was going to move,” Lemieux said. “This is unfolding around the world in parallel.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.