Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr. Rochelle Walensky refused to describe the Omicron variant of COVID-19 as “mild” in a Tuesday interview despite mounting evidence that the strain is less severe than prior versions of the virus.
Walensky took questions from Fox News host Bret Baier and his viewers about Omicron and repeatedly stressed the importance of getting vaccinated. When asked by multiple viewers why health officials are focused on case numbers when evidence suggests that most cases of Omicron are mild or asymptomatic, Walensky downplayed evidence that the variant is mild.
“More and more studies continue to come in every single day about the severity of Omicron. And we continue to learn more. We also know, with an increased number of cases, we are going to have some people who have severe disease,” Walensky said. “And so we are watching both the severity, as well as the number of cases.”
“We do need to still keep track of cases, because they are a leading indicator. We know that our hospitals get full several weeks after our cases start to rise,” she continued. “So we need to keep a good line of sight on both.”
It isn’t at all clear that hospitals will be filled by Omicron cases like they were with prior strains of the virus, though. So far, there has only been one confirmed death in the United States of an Omicron patient, a man in his fifties who was unvaccinated with underlying health conditions. The European CDC has reported that the overwhelming majority of Omicron cases in the European Union are mild or asymptomatic, and nationwide hospitalization rates have not increased by nearly the rate of cases.
When pressed by Baier on the fact that there has only been one American death due to Omicron, Walensky pivoted immediately to pushing vaccination: “What I can tell you right now is, the vast majority of people who are in the hospital right now are unvaccinated,” she said. “And so we are learning there still continue to be people who are in the hospital from our Delta surge, of course, and we are following what the severity and what is happening with the Omicron variant as well.” (RELATED: POLL: Americans Aren’t Cowering In Fear Of Omicron Variant)
Dr. Angelique Coetzee of the South African Medical Association said this week that case rates have already begun to decline in the Gauteng province of South Africa, where the variant first began to rapidly spread. Numerous reports have come out of that country indicating that Omicron is milder than prior variants, and Dr. Anthony Fauci himself agreed that’s likely the case. Still, authorities in America are hunkering down, reinstituting pandemic restrictions and ramping up vaccine mandates in many jurisdictions.