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Omicron ‘is going to find you,’ Fauci says in warning to the unvaccinated

On Dec. 22, top infectious-disease expert Anthony S. Fauci warned against attending large gatherings, "particularly in the context of omicron." (Video: Reuters)

While the country grapples with the latest coronavirus explosion due to the fast-spreading omicron variant, Anthony S. Fauci on Tuesday reassured those Americans who are vaccinated and boosted that they would have considerable protection from serious illness. But the nation’s top infectious-disease expert joined other public health officials nationwide in reiterating to the millions who remain unvaccinated that they are “very vulnerable” to infection from the country’s new dominant variant.

Fauci went one step further in predicting that omicron, which is even faster-spreading than the delta variant that sent infections spiking earlier in the year, “is going to find” those who are unvaccinated.

“That’s why I worry about the people who refuse to get vaccinated. When you’re dealing with any SARS-CoV-2 or covid-19 virus, it’s a problem,” he said to MSNBC’s Alicia Menendez. “When you’re dealing with one that spreads so rapidly and you are unvaccinated, the virus is going to find you.”

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His comments come as many Americans are flooding pharmacies and test centers for shots and at-home test kits ahead of the Christmas holiday. Similar warnings have been issued by President Biden and health experts in states such as Alabama and Arizona who fear what the latest surge in cases could mean for the unvaccinated.

“If you are not vaccinated, you are out of luck,” Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the division of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told AL.com.

Biden insisted Tuesday that the United States would not lock down or close schools, and he announced plans to distribute a half-billion free at-home tests. But he also told unvaccinated Americans that they have a “patriotic duty” to get vaccinated.

“You have an obligation to yourselves, to your family and, frankly, I know I’ll get criticized for this, to your country,” he said in the White House State Dining Room. “Get vaccinated now. It’s free, it’s convenient. I promise you, it saves lives.”

President Biden addressed the nation on Dec. 21, urging Americans to take precautions to fend off the fast-spreading omicron variant. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

Although early reports suggest that many people infected with the omicron variant experience only mild symptoms — and that those who are boosted appear to be protected against severe illness — the White House is bracing for a new surge of hospital patients in the coming weeks. That surge is likely to be driven by unvaccinated Americans, as well as those with limited immune protection.

More than 189,000 new coronavirus infections were reported Tuesday in the United States, bringing the country’s seven-day average to 155,467, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. The country’s cases have increased by about 27 percent in the past seven days; states including New York, Illinois and Ohio are reporting the most new daily infections.

While more than 69,000 people are currently hospitalized, the rate of hospitalizations remains about the same compared with last week, data showed as of early Wednesday. Deaths, however, are increasing, as about 1,330 people are now dying each day of the virus. In Texas, Harris County Public Health reported this week that an unvaccinated Houston-area man in his 50s may be the first U.S. fatality publicly attributed to omicron.

Just under 62 percent of the country is fully vaccinated. Twenty-seven states have a vaccination rate that trails the national figure. Less than a third of the fully vaccinated population has received an additional vaccine dose.

About 30 percent of the fully vaccinated in the U.S. have gotten boosted. Omicron could speed things up.

In Alabama, which has one of the lowest rates in the country of people fully vaccinated, at 47 percent, the omicron onslaught is raising concern after the state’s health-care system was pushed to the brink during the delta-driven surge in September. Marrazzo emphasized to local media that monoclonal antibody treatments that showed success in limiting hospitalizations months ago are not effective this time around against omicron.

“The best thing you can do is make sure you are as boosted as possible,” Marrazzo told AL.com. “I think if we can get enough people to embrace the tools we have, we can as a society hopefully avoid anything looking like a total lockdown.”

In Arizona, which has a vaccination rate of about 57 percent, health experts are warning of a potential increase in cases and hospitalizations, even as both remain lower than they were last week. Will Humble, executive director of the nonprofit Arizona Public Health Association, told KTVK that he feared hospitals would be overrun from the omicron surge next month.

“January of 2022, I think, is going to be the worst of the entire pandemic,” Humble said. When asked about omicron, Humble added: “I liken it to those ‘outbreak’ movies that you see, where everyone is walking around in ignorant bliss for a period of time, before it really hits. I think that’s where we are right now.”

But even as omicron spreads across the United States, some Republicans and conservative pundits have pushed back on the repeated warnings from Biden, Fauci and other public health experts. Florida’s state-sponsored commercials promoting vaccination have been pulled from the air and replaced with new ads that make no mention of vaccines, according to WPLG. The state’s Department of Health said the initiative is about the “overall health” of Floridians, and that information on boosters and vaccines can be found online.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) accused the president on Tuesday of vilifying unvaccinated Americans.

“To me, it is immoral, it’s disgusting, and it is absolutely sickening to me that the president of the United States would try to vilify people who are trying merely to exercise a health-care choice,” Biggs told Fox News.

When Ben Carson was asked on Fox about whether testing should not be used for those not showing any coronavirus symptoms, the former housing secretary during the Trump administration said officials should consider altering current recommendations for who gets tested.

“I personally think we should seriously give thought to not testing people who are asymptomatic,” said Carson, a former neurosurgeon. “We’re going to end up with a real problem. We’re going to have massive numbers of people who test positive. What are we going to do? Are we going to shut everything down? It doesn’t make any sense.”

On MSNBC, Fauci said he foresees an abundance of breakthrough infections among the vaccinated population. He then directed attention again to the unvaccinated population, which may suffer only “minimal symptomatology” and brush off the seriousness of omicron.

“But there are a lot of people that are going to get seriously ill if you are unvaccinated,” he said, “and that’s the reason, why despite the recalcitrance on the part of so many people to get vaccinated, we continue to encourage them, particularly in the context of this new variant, to please get vaccinated.”

Read more:

Your coronavirus questions, answered: What home supplies should you have if someone is infected?

Unvaccinated Houston man’s death may be first attributed to omicron in U.S.

What to know about the omicron variant of the coronavirus

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