(CBS) – The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in 89 countries, and COVID-19 cases involving the variant are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in places with community transmission and not just infections acquired abroad, the World Health Organization said Saturday.
Omicron’s “substantial growth advantage” over the Delta variant means it is likely to soon overtake Delta as the dominant form of the virus in countries where the new variant is spreading locally, the U.N. health agency said.
It remains unclear if the rapid growth of Omicron cases is because the variant evades existing immunity, is inherently more transmissible than previous variants, or a combination of both, WHO said.
Other major questions about Omicron remain unanswered, including how effective each of the existing COVID-19 vaccines are against it. Conclusive data also does not exist yet on how ill omicron makes COVID-19 patients, the health agency said.
WHO first labeled Omicron a variant of concern on November 26. It is now well on it’s way to becoming the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S. The number of states with Omicron COVID cases rose to 41 this week, Elise Preston reported for “CBS Saturday Morning.”
“And although Delta continues to circulate widely in the United States, Omicron is increasing rapidly, and we expect it to become the dominant strain in the United States as it has in other countries in the coming weeks,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said.