The top infectious disease expert in the United States is urging Americans to avoid taking part in mass New Year’s Eve celebrations as the nation continues to set record-breaking levels of daily new coronavirus infections driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.
The U.S. posted 489,267 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center, just two days after recording a new single-day record of 512,553.
The U.S. is now averaging more than 265,000 new coronavirus cases per day, breaking the previous mark of 250,000 daily new infections set in January.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said Wednesday he “strongly recommends” that people cancel plans to attend large holiday parties with “30, 40, 50 people” this year, and instead spend the time with small gatherings of friends or relatives who are vaccinated and have received a booster shot.
In an interview Wednesday on financial cable network CNBC, Fauci also predicted the current omicron-driven surge may hit its peak in the U.S. by the end of January.
Health experts say despite omicron’s fast-moving spread around the world since it was first detected in South Africa last month, it appears to cause less severe illnesses than other versions of the coronavirus. However a World Health Organization official warned this week it is still too early to tell how omicron will affect older, more vulnerable people.
Meanwhile, a new study out of South Africa suggests a booster shot of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine provides strong protection against the omicron variant.
Researchers at the South African Medical Research Council say the booster shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was given to about 69,000 health care workers between November 15 and December 20. The results show the effectiveness at preventing hospitalization rose from 63% shortly after it was administered to 84% 14 days later, and 85% within one to two months.
Also, a separate study involving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the United States suggests the vaccine provides a 41-fold increase in neutralizing antibodies when used as a booster shot for people who received the two-dose Pfizer vaccine.
Doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston also told CNN the Johnson & Johnson booster produces a five-fold increase in so-called T cells, an arm of the human immune system that kills virus-infected cells and keeps them from replicating and spreading.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.