Omicron in the US: Likely in the Calm before a Surge

Key Points

Food Safety & Public Health:

Recommendations for Industry

Omicron in the US: Likely in the Calm before a Surge

Throughout the pandemic, the US has tended to follow the trends of the UK in case and transmission rates. Currently, the UK is leading the world in confirmed Omicron cases, with UK Health Security Agency data showing that cases are doubling every 2-3 days, and the variant being 3.2-fold more likely to be transmitted to household contacts than Delta, with close contacts having a 2.1-fold increased risk of becoming infected.

The case rate statistics are being proven with the numbers being seen in the country, as the 4,713 Omicron cases of December 13 has increased to more than 10,000 cases as of December 16. And, with only a sampling of positive tests checked to see which variant is involved, the true total for Omicron is likely much higher. On the positive side, there were only 10 recorded hospitalizations and one death recorded as of December 13 and that has not increased, even with the increase in cases.

From all this, the US should expect that COVID cases will be increasing due to Omicron, and in the coming weeks potentially surpassing the daily high of nearly 300,000 cases which the US hit last December. All data is showing that transmissibility is significantly higher, though that from the UK and South Africa seems to show an encouragingly lower severity rate.

While it also is imperative that businesses continue to maintain all protections, we don’t see lockdowns, travel restrictions, etc., as being particularly effective, especially with European data showing that most Omicron cases are being seen in non-travelers with only 13% of Omicron being found in travelers. So be prepared. COVID-19 is not passing quietly (or at all) into the night; rather we’re likely just in a calm before a next surge.


Risk Matrix:

TAG’s weekly matrix is currently showing a bit of stability across the US, in that case rates are not getting worse … but they’re also not getting better. Delta remains the dominant variant at this point and is continuing to work its way across states in which it had not previously had a significant impact. But as noted in Recommendations, Omicron is beginning, and all signs show that its crest will be high.

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In Case You Missed It

Food Safety & Public Health:

  • FDA Issues Improvement Plan Focused on Modernizing Foodborne Illness Outbreak Responses. The plan is designed to help enhance the speed, effectiveness, coordination, and communication of foodborne outbreak investigations. It focuses on four priority areas expected to have the most impact on outbreaks of human food:
    • Tech-enabled product traceback.
    • Root-cause investigations (RCIs).
    • Strengthen analysis and dissemination of outbreak data.
    • Operational improvements.


Flu Update:

In the US (CDC, etc.)

  • Seasonal influenza activity in the U.S. remains low but continues to increase.
    • The dominant strain remains H3N2, an Influenza A
    • Flu vaccine rates are lower than normal in some places
    • Illness rates also are lower than would be typical, largely attributed to COVID precautions (e.g., mask wearing, hand washing) that are still in place. 
  • Norovirus cases are also increasing, particularly in group settings – schools, a homeless shelter, etc.


  • National Influenza Centres (NICs) and other national influenza laboratories from 102 countries, areas or territories reported data to FluNet for Nov 8-21, 2021. Of more than 335,864 specimens tested in WHO GISRS laboratories, 3,844 were positive for influenza viruses, of which 1,658 (43.1%) were typed as influenza A and 2,186 (56.9%) as influenza B.
  • Globally, influenza activity continued to increase but remains well below levels observed in previous seasons.