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Omicron might mark end of Covid pandemic phase: Fauci

BI Desk || BusinessInsider

Published: 18:04, 19 January 2022  
Omicron might mark end of Covid pandemic phase: Fauci

Dr. Anthony Fauci. Picture: Collected

It's still too early to predict whether Omicron's rapid spread will help push coronavirus from the pandemic phase to a more manageable endemic phase -- but "I would hope that that's the case," Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday.

A disease that is endemic has a constant presence in a population but does not affect an alarmingly large number of people or disrupt society, as typically seen in a pandemic.

Since Omicron is highly transmissible but apparently less likely to cause as severe disease as some previous variants, it could mark a transition from this Covid-19 pandemic chapter to an endemic phase, reports CNN.

"But that would only be the case if we don't get another variant that eludes the immune response to the prior variant," Fauci told the Davos Agenda, a virtual event this week held by the World Economic Forum.

"We were fortunate" that Omicron did not share some of the same characteristics as Delta, Fauci said. "But the sheer volume of people who are getting infected overrides that rather less level of pathogenicity."

"It is an open question as to whether or not Omicron is going to be the live virus vaccination that everyone is hoping for because you have such a great deal of variability with new variants emerging," he said.

That doesn't mean people should intentionally try to get the Omicron variant. Doctors say that's a terrible idea for several reasons.

And it doesn't mean the battle against Covid-19 is over -- especially as overwhelmed hospitals delay elective surgeries and schools switch to remote learning.

Health care systems -- some facing critical staffing shortages -- have treated more Covid-19 patients in recent days than ever. At least 156,676 Covid-19 patients in the US were hospitalized Monday, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

And an average of 1,695 Americans died from Covid-19 every day over the past week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Schools grapple with the Omicron surge

This week, more school districts -- from Paterson, New Jersey, to Mobile, Alabama -- have moved to virtual learning as the Omicron variant exacerbates staffing shortages.

In Texas, all schools and offices in the Houston Independent School District were closed Tuesday due to rising infections in the area, the school district announced on its website. Classes are expected to resume Wednesday.

HISD encouraged students and staff to take "this extra day to mitigate potential exposure."

But New York City's mayor emphasized that classrooms in the nation's largest school district will remain open -- citing "good news" in the city's fight against Covid-19.

"We have not won yet," Mayor Eric Adams said Tuesday, but "we are winning."

Covid-19 hospitalizations have decreased from about 6,500 on January 11 to about 5,800 on January 16, city Health Commissioner Dr. Dr David Chokshi said.

But Chokshi warned Covid-19 numbers are still high, reinforcing the need for vaccination.

While districtwide remote learning is not an option, the mayor said, the city is in talks with the teachers' union about the possibility of a remote option for sick children who are isolating at home.

Meanwhile, a mask mandate in schools is under fire in Virginia.

Citing "individual liberty" and the availability of vaccines for K-12 students, newly inaugurated Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued an executive order stating parents will get to decide if their child must wear a mask in class, a departure from his predecessor's public health emergency order in August that masks were to be worn in schools.

Several districts in the Northern Virginia and metro Richmond area announced they will reject the latest order, which is set to begin January 24.

"Our layered prevention strategies have proven effective in keeping transmission rates low in our schools," Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand said in a letter to the school community.

"Universal mask use has proven effective in keeping Covid-19 transmission rates low in our schools and ensuring schools remain safe and open," a statement from Arlington Public Schools said about its decision.

And an email from Henrico County Public Schools to parents and guardians reads, "Mask use is a vital component of the division's layered prevention measures," while noting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends masks in schools and that federal law requires masks on school buses.