COVID-19 live updates: Omicron will be dominant variant in US ‘very soon,’ Fauci says

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(NEW YORK) — As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.3 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 802,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

About 61% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Dec 16, 8:52 pm
CDC recommends opting for Pfizer or Moderna over J&J when there’s a choice

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has signed off on its advisory committee’s recommendation that people who have a choice should get an mRNA vaccine, either Pfizer or Moderna, over the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The updated recommendation comes after a review of new CDC data on rare blood clots linked to the J&J vaccine.

“Today’s updated recommendation emphasizes CDC’s commitment to provide real-time scientific information to the American public,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “I continue to encourage all Americans to get vaccinated and boosted.”

Dec 16, 7:54 pm
Omicron now makes up nearly 100% of strains found in Orlando wastewater samples

The new omicron variant makes up nearly 100% of the strains found in wastewater samples in Orlando, Florida, officials said Thursday.

“It escalated rapidly,” Orange County Utilities spokeswoman Sarah Lux told ABC News.

In its first test for the variant last Thursday, the department found no evidence of omicron in the community’s wastewater, she said. On Saturday, it represented about 30% of the strains found in the samples, and by Tuesday, nearly 100%.

“So, we’re talking about zero to nearly 100 in a matter of a week,” Lux said.

All parts of the county are seeing an increasing presence of the omicron variant, she said. The southern area, home to the theme parks, has seen the highest amount of virus remnants, followed by the eastern area, which is home to the University of Central Florida.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Dec 16, 3:53 pm
CDC committee recommends opting for Pfizer or Moderna over J&J if given choice

The CDC’s advisory committee recommended Thursday that people who have a choice should get an mRNA vaccine, either Pfizer or Moderna, over the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine after a review of new CDC data on rare blood clots linked to J&J.

The vote was unanimous.

The rare blood clots are not a new safety concern and the vaccine has already become far less common in the U.S. after it was given an FDA warning label about the clotting condition. But more data that confirmed a slightly higher rate of clotting cases and deaths than was previously reported caused the CDC and FDA to take another look at the data this week.

The CDC has confirmed nine deaths and 54 cases from the severe clotting event, thrombosis with thrombocytopenia.

There could also be more cases and deaths because TSS is under-diagnosed and could be underreported, the CDC said.

The clotting is more common among women in their 30s and 40s but has been seen in adult men and women of all ages.

The experts said J&J should not be taken off the shelves and is still far more beneficial than not getting any vaccine at all.

-ABC News’ Cheyenne Haslett

Dec 16, 3:22 pm
Several Northeast states nearing peak levels

Maine and New Hampshire are now averaging more new cases than at any other point in the pandemic, while daily cases in Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are nearing peak levels, according to federal data.

Five of those states — Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont — have the highest full vaccination rates in the country.

In Florida, which has been largely spared from the latest COVID-19 wave, daily cases have increased by 92% over the last two weeks, according to federal data.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Dec 16, 2:47 pm
NYC cases have tripled in the last month

COVID-19 cases in New York City have tripled in the last month, officials warned Thursday.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a six-point plan to fight the surge, including increasing testing capacity, doubling down on business inspections and distributing 1 million KN95 masks and 500,000 rapid home tests.

“We need to stop this variant,” the mayor said. “This variant moves fast. We need to move a lot faster.”

-ABC News’ Aaron Katersky

Dec 16, 8:04 am
Omicron will be dominant variant in US ‘very soon,’ Fauci says

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, warned Thursday that omicron will become the dominant variant of the novel coronavirus in the United States “very soon.”

“It has an extraordinary ability to transmit efficiently and spread,” Fauci, the chief medical advisor to U.S. President Joe Biden, told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in an interview on Good Morning America.

“It has what we call a doubling time of about three days and if you do the math on that, if you have just a couple of percentage of the isolates being omicron, very soon it’s going to be the dominant variant,” he explained. “We’ve seen that in South Africa, we’re seeing it in the U.K. and I’m absolutely certain that’s what we’re going to be seeing here relatively soon.”

Fauci, who is also the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, urged Americans to “absolutely” get vaccinated against COVID-19, if they haven’t already, and to also receive a booster shot when they become eligible.

“At this point, we don’t believe you need an omicron-specific boost,” he added. “We just need to get the boost with what you got originally for the primary vaccination.”

Dec 16, 6:14 am
France to ban non-essential travel with UK over omicron surge

France announced Thursday that it will ban non-essential travel to and from the United Kingdom due to the country’s surge in cases of the omicron variant.

Starting Saturday, France will require people to have “a compelling reason” to travel between the two countries. Travel for tourism or work will not be allowed. French citizens, however, can return to France, according to a statement from the French prime minister’s office.

All travelers from the U.K. will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken less than 24 hours before departure. Upon arrival in France, they must self-isolate for a week, but that period can be ended after 48 hours if they test negative for COVID-19 again.

The new rules apply to people regardless of their vaccination status.

“Faced with the extremely rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the United Kingdom, the Government has chosen to reinstate the need for an essential reason for travel from and to the United Kingdom, and to strengthen the requirement for tests on departure and arrival,” the French prime minister’s office said in the statement Thursday. “The Government is also calling on travelers who had planned to visit the United Kingdom to postpone their trip.”

Dec 16, 4:24 am
Indonesia confirms 1st case of omicron variant

Indonesia announced Thursday its first confirmed case of the omicron variant.

The case was detected in a janitor who works at the COVID-19 Emergency Hospital of Kemayoran Athletes Village in Jakarta, according to a statement from Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin.

The hospital’s cleaning staff are routinely tested and the results for three people were positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 10. Those samples were then sent to a genome sequencing lab, which identified the omicron variant in one of the samples on Wednesday, according to the statement.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Health has also identified probable cases of omicron among five travelers who were in quarantine — two Indonesian citizens who had just returned from the United Kingdom and the United States, and three foreigners from China. Their test samples are being sequenced and the results will be known in a few days, according to the statement.

The health minister urged Indonesians “not to panic and to remain calm,” and to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if they haven’t already.

“The arrival of new variants from abroad, which we identified in quarantine, shows that our defense system against the arrival of new variants is quite good, we need to strengthen it,” Sadikin said. “So it’s normal to stay 10 days in quarantine. The goal is not to make it difficult for people who came, but to protect the people of Indonesia.”

Dec 15, 4:46 pm
Forecast: US could see up to 845,000 deaths by early January

Forecast models used by the CDC suggest weekly death totals and hospital admissions will rise over the next four weeks.

The U.S. could reach a total of 845,000 deaths by Jan. 8, according to the forecasts from the COVID-19 Forecast Hub at UMass Amherst.

The COVID-19 Forecast Hub team monitors and combines forecasting models from the nation’s top researchers. They then create an ensemble, usually with a wide cone of uncertainty. Nicholas Reich, a biostatistician who runs the forecasting model, told ABC News Wednesday that he doesn’t think the forecasts included omicron in their predictions because the majority of data isn’t publicly available yet in a format that can be easily incorporated into a model.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Dec 15, 4:20 pm
US cases up 45% in the last month

The U.S. is now reporting nearly 118,000 new cases each day — up by 45% in the last month, according to federal data.

Daily COVID-19-related hospital admissions have leapt by 46% in the last month.

Maine and New Hampshire are now averaging more new cases than at any other point in the pandemic, according to federal data.

New Hampshire currently holds the nation’s highest case rate, followed by Rhode Island, Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

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