Fauci says omicron cases rising in 'vertical spike' but could peak soon

Dave Goldiner
New York Daily News

Dr. Anthony Fauci said the new year is bringing bad news as the highly transmissible omicron variant powers a “vertical spike” in COVID-19 cases.

But even as omicron drives the worst caseloads of the entire pandemic, Fauci believes the wave could peak quickly.

“Cases are not going up gradually, they are going straight up,” Fauci told WPIX TV on Monday. “What we are hoping is you reach a peak and the cases come down rather quickly.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The meteoric rise and fall in omicron cases is what doctors experienced in South Africa, where the new strain was first identified in late November.

Despite being much more contagious, omicron appears to cause less serious disease for the vaccinated than previous strains of COVID-19. And those who survive it will have some refreshed protection from other forms of the virus that are circulating.

That’s a great sign for eventually getting the pandemic under control, but first, the U.S. will have to endure a rough few weeks or more.

“The promising news is we have the tools to get out of it sooner than later,” said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical adviser to the president.

Following howls of protest by medical personnel, Fauci defended the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recently issued guidance allowing those who test positive for COVID-19 but who are asymptomatic to return to work after isolating for five days, instead of the previous 10 days.

Along with evolving clinical science about how long COVID-19 patients stay contagious, he cited the need to avoid a collapse of essential services if millions of workers are sidelined.

“You got to make sure that society remains functional,” he said. “You try to strike a balance.”

Fauci said he remained concerned about how the tens of millions of unvaccinated Americans will cope with omicron.

But he admitted being hopeful that the protection from widespread infection combined with the relatively large share of the population that is vaccinated and boosted will allow the country to finally turn the corner in the seemingly never-ending fight to end the pandemic.

“You would hope there would be enough background protection in the population to prevent these massive outbreaks,” he said.