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‘Just about everybody’ will become exposed to Omicron COVID variant, Fauci says

Dr. Anthony Fauci testified at a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.Pool/Getty

The nation’s top infectious disease expert is warning that almost everyone will become exposed to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, and among those who become infected, people who are unvaccinated will have more severe outcomes.

During a conversation with the Center for Strategic & International Studies on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Omicron will “find just about everybody.”

“Those who have been vaccinated and vaccinated and boosted would get exposed,” he continued. “Some, maybe a lot of them, will get infected but will very likely, with some exceptions, do reasonably well in the sense of not having hospitalization and death.”

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People who are unvaccinated are “going to get the brunt of the severe aspect of this,” Fauci said.

While it appears Omicron is less clinically severe than Delta, the sheer volume of those who will be infected by the new variant can still overwhelm hospitals, Fauci said.

Fauci’s comments came after the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Janet Woodcock, on Tuesday said while testifying before a Senate committee that “most people are going to get COVID.”

Woodcock said during the hearing that the focus should now turn to making sure the wave of infections doesn’t disrupt essential services.

“What we need to do is make sure the hospitals can still function, transportation, you know, other essential services are not disrupted while this happens,” Woodcock said.

During a White House COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday, Fauci clarified Woodcock’s comments and said that Woodcock was not saying “most of us were ultimately going to get sick with Omicron.”

Woodcock was referring to the point at which the virus is under control with low levels of infections, and people become accustomed to living with it, Fauci said.

“If you control it in a way it’s at a such a low level, and people are vaccinated and boosted, sooner or later, as we begin to live with it, what she was referring to is that virtually everybody is going to wind up getting exposed and likely get infected,” Fauci said. “But if you’re vaccinated and if you’re boosted, the chances of you getting sick are very, very low.”

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About 63 percent of the US population is fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 75 percent of the population has received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, and 37 percent of people have received a booster dose, the data show.

The United States is seeing a rise in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths fueled by Omicron variant. The country on Wednesday was averaging about 751,000 COVID cases per day, which represents about a 47 percent increase from the previous week, according to the CDC.

Massachusetts is also experiencing a large volume of COVID cases. On Monday, the seven-day average of confirmed COVID cases in the state was about 19,273, according to data from the Department of Public Health, which is significantly higher than where cases stood during last winter’s surge, when the seven-day average was nearly 6,000 confirmed cases.

However, there are signs that the COVID situation in the state could soon be improving. The levels of coronavirus detected in waste water in the Greater Boston area has ticked down in recent readings, raising hopes that cases may soon start to fall.

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And projection models show that while COVID is likely to worsen before it gets better, Massachusetts could be within two weeks of when Omicron is set to peak.


Amanda Kaufman can be reached at amanda.kaufman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandakauf1.