Walensky spoke with CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr Sanjay Gupta about it Friday afternoon. Interview has been edited for clarity.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: It’s been over a week since the world learned of this new variant. What do we know now that we didn’t know then?
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: These data are really starting to emerge. We have seen an increase in cases in South Africa and South Africa. We will learn a lot about this variation from them.
We’ve scaled up our genome sequencing here and are prepared for this because we’ve all done all the work we’ve done so far.
We have a lot more tools to deal with variations now than we did a year ago, but I want to highlight what was said at the top, which is that we now have about 86,000 cases of Covid in the United States. The United States is diagnosed every day and 99.9% of them, the overwhelming majority, continue to be NE. And we know what we need to do against Delta and that’s vaccination. Boosted if you qualify. And continue all those precautions including wearing a mask, and those are most likely to work against Omicron.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Are you worried that Omicron will become a dominant strain here? Do we have proof of that or what is your level of concern?
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: You know, maybe and we don’t know yet. What we do know is that the initial data, and even the mutation data, are telling us that this is possibly a more contagious variant than Delta. This will take some time to sort out. However, we are prepared. We’re working on genome sequencing in all of these states, but we’re most likely starting to see more Omicrons than Deltas. And we’ll be watching that very carefully.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: As you mentioned, we’re doing more sequencing, definitely a year ago, or even a few months ago, but that surprised me, Dr. Walensky, we’re still just doing more. one million tests per day. Period. There was talk of doing 20 million, 30 million tests per day. If we don’t do enough tests, even if we rearrange more things, won’t that leave us behind in terms of actually being able to have a real vision of what’s going on? out here?
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: So I think you are referring to PCR tests. We’re doing about a million and a half PCR tests a week. But I think what we really need to comment on is that we’re doing testing a lot faster, and even with the President’s action yesterday, we’re scaling up fast testing at airports. our international when we speak, in LAX and San Francisco, Atlanta, Newark, JFK to make sure we have rapid tests and PCR tests for international travelers so they can come and do the tests, you know, three to five days, even if they don’t show symptoms after they arrive.
We’re doing a lot of testing in our K-12 communities, in our higher education communities. And we’re scaling up the rapid tests that will be available in lower-income places and in more vulnerable communities so that those quick tests will be free. We have quick tests that are now available and may be refunded from your insurance company. So we’re doing more, not only in our PCR test, but also in our rapid test.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: I think many people still, especially as we head into the colder, drier months, still have questions about testing. Who should be tested? How often should people get tested? What kind of check should they use?
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: The whole point is to have affordable, accessible tests when you need or want one, and that’s exactly what all scaling has gone through.
Certainly, if you have any symptoms suggestive of Covid-19, you should get tested. And I would say, if you have access to a quick test first, get it. If you have easy access to PCR, get that PCR.
So anyone with symptoms should naturally get tested and then consult their healthcare provider, but definitely stay in isolation until you get the results. that test result.
Then many people are using tests for asymptomatic screening like they are doing in our K through 12 system, like they are doing in many of our higher level systems, and many people are also using it when people start to gather for the holiday. For example, if you want to have a gathering and you have a whole group of vaccinated people who have been practicing precautions for weeks before gathering and really want some extra reassurance, You can take the test to make sure that you are safe to assemble.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: You mentioned patients who have now been diagnosed with this new variant in the United States. One of them is a patient in Minnesota and this is a fully vaccinated and booster shot. So we recommend that everyone get their shots, booster shots – but then we hear about this particular person whose symptoms seem to be very mild. What is the current level of interest?
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: I think we have to understand the whole situation there. We are still learning a lot about this case and about all the contacts. Most likely this case is one of 1,000 people who have been exposed to Omicron. And this is the only case that turned positive, which could show that our vaccine is working very well.
It is also helpful to understand that this person has mild symptoms that, to my knowledge, resolved fairly quickly. So this could really be a story of vaccine success, not necessarily vaccine failure.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: I want to ask about this natural immunity problem. It shows up quite a lot. People who’ve had Covid feel like they have immunity to this infection, wondering why they still need the vaccine. Been through this many times. Is there some sort of plan in place to be able to find out if someone really has antibodies, is immune and therefore doesn’t need to be vaccinated now, or gets a booster shot now, regardless of it? What could be?
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: This is really an important question and is still being studied. What I think is really important to understand here is that the more mutations you have in a variant, the more you want to boost your immunity to have as much immunity as possible to overcome that variant. .
And what we know now with the Omicron variant is that more immunity is better. So, if you’ve had an infection in the past, you’ll definitely be more protected if you also get vaccinated. And that’s really the goal here – to try to provide as much protection as possible so that people are protected from serious illness and, ideally, against infection.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Usually, when something like this happens, we’re used to hearing from the CDC right away. Do you think the country will benefit from hearing your opinion when this variant actually launches?
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: We all worked together over the weekend and we had a statement as soon as this came out, and we intend and will continue to be completely transparent with all data. that we’re learning right after we learn it.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: So you haven’t been cast aside in any way.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: Oh, absolutely not. We collaborated and worked together over the weekend.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: All right, Dr. Walensky, stay in touch. We’d love to continue to hear from you and keep us informed of what’s going on with Omicron.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: Yes, totally do. Thank you so much for having me.