ORLANDO, Fla. – New infections are surging across the country, including in Florida, as the omicron variant of the coronavirus continues to spread.
With upcoming holiday gatherings, there are worries they will only make things worse. President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak Tuesday about the administration’s latest plan to try to slow the spread. The president’s remarks are expected to include another warning for people who are unvaccinated as top health experts continue to stress getting the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots is the best way to stay protected.
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“If you’ve had vaccines and a booster, you’re very well protected against omicron causing you severe disease,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. “So, anybody listening to this who’s in that 60% of Americans who are eligible for a booster but haven’t yet gotten one, this is the week to do it. Do not wait.”
Pfizer said earlier this month that its booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine increased by 25-fold people’s levels of antibodies capable of fighting off omicron.
The World Health Organization said the variant has been detected in 89 countries and noted omicron is spreading rapidly, even in countries with high vaccination rates or where a large proportion of the population has recovered from COVID-19. Experts are still working to learn whether the variant’s rapid spread is because it is evading existing immunity or if it is more transmissible than previous variants.
It is unknown whether the spike in cases will lead to a big increase in hospitalizations in Florida.
According to government data, about 1,500 people are hospitalized — 2.6% of hospital beds are in use for COVID — for the virus in the state right now, but that’s actually down by nearly 50 cases since the end of last week.
Experts say data from South Africa, where the omicron variant was first detected, continues to show it’s less severe. Although case numbers are rising in South Africa, hospital admissions for adults diagnosed with COVID-19 are 29% lower compared to the wave the country experienced in mid-2020, after adjusting for vaccination status, according to the new analysis.