Omicron surge is spreading fast but could end fast, says immunologist

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A registered nurse administers a nasal swab test for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a same-day health clinic, as the Omicron variant continues to spread after the Christmas holiday break, in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, U.S. December 27, 2021. Photo by REUTERS/Bing Guan.

One in five people who tested for COVID in LA County over the past week are now positive, and each infected person is spreading it to two other people, on average. That’s the highest rate of transmission since the start of the pandemic. Public health officials are saying the more contagious Omicron variant, increased holiday gatherings, and travel are the main reasons. Though LA hospitalizations remain far lower than the previous winter surge, they’ve doubled in the last two weeks.

“We are cautiously optimistic that this is going to spread like wildfire, but it’s going to be short, sharp, and fast,” says Paula Cannon, professor of microbiology and immunology at USC’s Keck School of Medicine. 

She says COVID may now be moving from pandemic status to “endemic,” like many other viruses that exist in the world but for which we have effective vaccines, like the measles and mumps. 

Meanwhile, the FDA today approved the Pfizer booster for anyone between ages 12-15.