Dow Today – Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today
Some states lag far behind. The Ohio Department of Health, for example, notes that, from start to finish, the process of “collecting the sample, testing it, sequencing it and reporting it can take a minimum of 3-4 weeks.”
Testing issues. Scientists can sequence samples only from cases that are detected, and the U.S. has often struggled to perform enough testing. Also, as more people take at-home tests, if they aren’t followed up with a P.C.R. test, then those cases won’t be sequenced.
Other possible reasons. Perhaps infected patients have milder symptoms and are not getting tested. (We still don’t know whether Omicron causes more severe disease.) It is also possible that there is not yet much community spread of the variant in the U.S. Travel patterns may be playing a role. Although it is not yet clear where Omicron emerged, some of the first outbreaks were reported in South Africa, where the variant is now widespread, and there are more flights from southern Africa to Europe than to the U.S.
The good news is that scientists have said they should be able to speed up the process. They know what they are looking for now and should be able to prioritize samples that seem most likely to be Omicron.
Answers to your Omicron questions
Yesterday I asked readers for their questions about the new variant, and dozens came pouring in. I took some of them to my colleague Apoorva Mandivilli, who covers science and global health for The Times, for answers. If you’d like to submit a question about Omicron, you can fill out this form here.
Is Omicron more contagious than other variants? — Eric Sanchez, Mexico City
Apoorva: There are some indications that Omicron might be as contagious as Delta or more, although we will need to wait for more information to be sure. Omicron shares some mutations with Delta that may be involved in transmissibility, and has been spreading through South Africa quite rapidly. Both of those things make it likely that the variant is highly contagious. But it’s important to note that if Omicron can evade immunity from previous infections, for example, that advantage would make it appear contagious. We’ll know more in a couple of weeks.