The Omicron variant was estimated to be 95% of the coronavirus strains circulating in the United States as of Jan. 1, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Tuesday.
The CDC said the variant accounted for an estimated 77% of cases in the week ended Dec. 25, up from the 58.6% projection it had disclosed last week.
The CDC has started providing weekly omicron prevalence estimates every Tuesday.
“These coming weeks are going to be challenging,” President Joe Biden said Tuesday ahead of a meeting on the coronavirus pandemic, noting that 35 million people in the country have still yet to be vaccinated despite the availability of vaccine supplies.
Biden said unvaccinated people should be alarmed by omicron’s rapid spread in the U.S., warning many of them to get infected and develop severe illness.
“Some will die — needlessly die,” Biden said. “Unvaccinated are taking up hospital beds and crowding emergency rooms and intensive care units. That’s displaced other people who need access to those hospitals.”
The omicron variant, which is thought to be more transmissible than past variants, has fueled upticks in case counts worldwide and nationally.
Daily COVID-19 cases in the United States have been skyrocketing around the holiday season, with a tally by Johns Hopkins University showing that the figure topped 1 million for the first time on Monday.
The nation is now reporting a seven-day average of more than 480,000 new infections, nearly double the previous week.
“There’s been so much talk of just saying, ‘oh, it’s just so much less severe. It’s cold-like.’ Sure, maybe it’s similar to some of those things in terms of severity. But this virus is so much more transmissible than all of those things,” says Johns Hopkins University’s Shaun Truelove.
“Just by sheer numbers, we’re going to get a lot of hospitalizations,” warned Truelove.
About 100,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, according to a New York Times tracker, about the same as the peak from the delta wave over the summer, and the number is climbing quickly.