Dr. Anthony Fauci says you can’t tell a loaf of COVID bread from its omicron crumbs.
The nation’s top COVID-19 pandemic physician warned that health officials still don’t have nearly enough information to judge whether the new omicron variant will cause milder symptoms than previous variants of the deadly virus.
Fauci advised caution when responding to a reporter’s question about “reading the bread crumbs” from early South African reports that those confirmed as being infected with omicron have not so far suffered serious illnesses.
“Be careful about bread crumbs,” Fauci said with a wry smile. “They may not tell you what kind of loaf of bread you have.”
He noted that most of initially identified omicron cases involved young people, who are generally less prone to suffer severe illness from any of the COVID-19 variants.
“We believe it is too soon to say what the severity will be,” said Fauci, who spoke with top South African epidemiologists earlier via video chat. “They’re hoping it will be less severe across the board. But they don’t know that yet.”
Fauci spoke along with Dr. Rochelle Walensky at a briefing of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
The top docs said no cases of the omicron variant have been identified in the U.S. yet. But they suggested it is a foregone conclusion that the new strain will eventually reach the U.S.
Echoing President Joe Biden, they urged Americans to get vaccinated and to get booster shots as soon as possible to protect themselves against omicron, as well as the virulent delta variant that now accounts for more than 99% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
Despite omicron’s rapid spread in South Africa, especially in and around the capital city of Pretoria, Fauci said it is too early to say if it is more transmissible than delta, which has been the dominant strain in South Africa for months.
South African health authorities reported on Tuesday 4,373 new cases of COVID-19, by far the biggest daily caseload in recent months and a shocking 404% increase from the same day last week.
About three-quarters of the fresh cases were reported in the populous Gauteng province, which includes Pretoria and the country’s economic capital Johannesburg.