The United States should be past the omicron COVID wave by February, but the variant's ability to mutate heavily and evade immunity that has been acquired took many experts by surprise, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who sits on the board of vaccine maker Pfizer, said Sunday.
"Many people, including myself, have predicted that Delta would be the last major wave of infection then omicron came along," the doctor said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
"But if you look what's happening across the East Coast right now in New York City, Washington, D.C., Maryland, probably Florida as well have already peaked, maybe Delaware and Rhode Island."
The statistics this week will show the epidemic curves bending down, said Gottlieb, which is already happening in New York City and Washington, D.C., he added.
"The risk right now is to the midwest, where you have a rising infection, where they aren't in the thick of their omicron wave yet," said Gottlieb.
Several states, though, still had high hospitalization rates from delta infections when the omicron wave started, said Gottlieb.
But on the good side, while cases are up substantially, putting pressures on hospitals, admissions are down, he added.
"Many of the hospitals on the East Coast are going to reach or surpass their previous hospitalization totals," he said.
"New York City is probably the city that's best equipped to handle it, they're about 55% of the hospitalizations that they saw during that devastating first wave. But in other states, they're more pressed. They're close to 100% of the hospitalizations they saw in previous waves. "
But still, there are a lot of risks over the next few weeks, particularly with children ages four and younger who are still not eligible for vaccines, said Gottlieb.
"I think you have to look in on what the precautions are in the settings in which you're putting your children and try to encourage those who are taking care of your children in those settings to put in place measures to try to protect them," he said.
"If you look at New York City, for example, fully 55% of the hospitalizations of pediatric hospitalizations are children ages zero to four, and they only represent 26% of the population."
Meanwhile, there is still a great deal of confusion over the CDC's guidelines on isolation. The agency now recommends people continue to wear masks for five days after their isolation period ends, but Gottlieb said the omicron wave isn't necessarily being driven by those people, but by the asymptomatic.
"We're probably only diagnosing somewhere between one and five and one in 10 actual infections, and there are a lot of people walking around with mild illness or asymptomatic infection who don't know it, who are spreading it," said Gottlieb.
But if the CDC was more clear on its guidance, "people could take more actions on their own," he added.
Gottlieb added that it's "unfortunate" that the Biden administration hasn't started mailing out home COVID tests before now.
"These tests are going to be distributed as this epidemic is declining in many parts of the country, not all parts of the country," said Gottlieb.
"For certain parts of the country, the tests are going to get there in time or in time for the peak infection. I think they would have been better served by directly subsidizing the tests and having them delivered through normal retail channels like pharmacies, rather than shipping these through the mail. We need to start to normalize the supply chain for the tools that people need to protect themselves from this pandemic."
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