- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 16, 2022

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Sunday the winter spike of COVID-19 is easing in some parts of the country but the omicron variant is striking separate regions at different times, so it is unclear when the worst will be over.

“The good news is that there are parts of the country, New York, in particular, and other parts of the Northeast, where we are starting to see a plateau and, in some cases, an early decline in cases,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “The omicron wave started later in other parts of the country. So we shouldn’t expect a national peak in the next coming days. The next few weeks will be tough.”

Dr. Murthy addressed the situation as the U.S. records over 800,000 infections per day and hospitalizations reach an all-time high of nearly 160,000. Roughly 1,900 people are dying per day from COVID-19, but that is far below the 3,300-per-day peak from last January.

Omicron appears to be less severe than previous variants of the coronavirus, but it is inflicting damage because it spreads so easily. The crisis is a major drag on President Biden, who promised adequate testing but has been unable to satisfy demand during the winter spike.

Mr. Biden is scrambling to catch up. He purchased one billion tests that Americans will soon be able to order from a website for free delivery to their homes. He is also devising ways to send out high-quality masks for free.

“We certainly have more we need to do on testing,” Dr. Murthy said. “It’s why you have seen so many additional spigots opened, if you will, when it comes to testing and why that supply will continue to increase in the months ahead.”

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said tests may be cost-prohibitive for some and municipalities are having a hard time buying in bulk but they are available from some online retailers and government moves to make them available for free delivery will be helpful.

“Most consumers can reach into the market and buy these tests. Unfortunately, they weren’t available when we had peak demand,” Dr. Gottlieb told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan faulted Mr. Biden on Sunday for taking so long to deliver the free home tests he promised around Christmas and said his own state started to distribute high-quality masks earlier than the administration.

Mr. Hogan, a Republican, said the good news is that his state is the omicron wave appears to be letting up.

“For the past four or five days we’ve seen fairly dramatic decreases in positivity rates, hospitalizations and [the] case rate,” Mr. Hogan said on “Face the Nation.”

Mr. Hogan also said his state will continue to track antibody levels from the vaccines, especially in seniors, as West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, calls for a fourth shot for the most vulnerable. The Maryland governor said he doesn’t think they need to start rolling out another round of boosters but they monitor the situation.

“We certainly have more we need to do on testing,” Dr. Murthy said. “That supply will continue to increase in the months ahead.”

Dr. Murthy, meanwhile, also said it is important to be “up to date” on vaccination by getting an extra dose, once eligible, after primary series of two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or a single shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Some public health experts are pressing the Biden administration to update its definition of fully vaccinated to include the booster so that people understand the importance of an extra dose is beating back omicron.

“We see that if you’ve had your primary series … you still have decent protection against hospitalization and death,” Dr. Murthy said. “But you increase that protection even more, and increase your protection against all infection, by getting that booster shot.”

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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