Dr. Anthony Fauci on Monday advised Americans to stay away from large New Year's Eve gatherings because of the rapid spread of the omicron coronavirus variant and the difficulties of getting tested.
He also acknowledged that the United States should have had more testing capacity before the variant caused another disease surge.
"We had a conflation of high demands because of the concern about omicron, which is a justifiable concern, but the high demand that was triggered by the holiday season, people getting ready to travel getting ready to go and mix with family members and friends," Fauci said on CNN's "New Day."
Fauci, who is President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser and the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also acknowledged that "we should have had more tests available," but insisted he wasn't "making any excuses for it."
More tests will be made available in January, Fauci said, but he warned that "it's possible" that the numbers could rise to as many as 500,000 new cases of COVID a day, although he said he doesn't fully believe the numbers will reach those levels.
Meanwhile, omicron's rapid spread means ringing in 2022 as part of a large crowd of revelers this year is not a good idea, said Fauci.
"I would stay away from that," he told CNN, adding that he has been telling people that if they are vaccinated and boosted, it's OK to gather in a family setting among relatives.
"But when you're talking about a New Year's Eve party, we have 30, 40, 50 people celebrating, you do not know the status of their vaccination," said Fauci. "I would recommend strongly staying away from that this year … there will be other years to do that, but not this year."
The doctor also said the surge of new, omicron -spurred cases will continue "for a while" in the United States but he hopes matters turn around as quickly as they have in South Africa, where the variant was first reported.
At this point, the United States has an average of almost 200,000 new cases of COVID-19 being reported, with the delta variant still holding on while the more contagious omicron variant is said to be responsible for most of the new cases.
And while omicron infections may turn out to be less severe than the delta variant has been, the numbers are still going to cause problems for the nation's hospitals, said Fauci.
"It looks like the degree of severity of the disease is considerably less than they experienced with delta," the doctor said. "We’re seeing inklings of that now in the United States. The UK is also seeing that. So I do hope that we do have the net effect is a diminution in the degree of severity."
However the sheer volume of cases, particularly among the nonvaccinated, will cause crowding in already-stressed hospitals, said Fauci. He added that there are ways to help control the numbers of ill people, emphasizing that it's important that people get vaccinated and then get their booster shots.
"Boosters are always good for any variant but particularly for omicron," he said. "If you are vaccinated and not yet boosted, and your time comes for getting boosted, please get boosted. It's going to make all the difference to prevent you from getting severe disease."
Fauci also appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Monday, where he warned that omicron may cause less severe symptoms but that it is not something that should be considered lightly.
"We still need to be extremely careful and getting people vaccinated," he said.
Meanwhile, lowering the number of quarantine days is being "actively discussed," as "you're going to have so many people infected at one time that you don't want to disrupt society."
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