‘We could be having a million cases a day’: outgoing NIH director issues COVID warning

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Charles Hoppmann is swabbed for a COVID-19 test as his family of four departs for a vacation in Milan, Italy, at a testing center operated by Nomi Health inside Miami International Airport, Friday, Dec. 17, 2021, in Miami. Nomi nurses said that both demand for tests and positivity rates at their testing center have risen significantly since Thanksgiving. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

(WJW) — One of the nation’s top doctors is warning that, with the rapid spread of the omicron variant, the United States could soon see 1 million new coronavirus cases per day.

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins, who is retiring after 12 years on the job, appeared on NPR’s “Weekend Edition” Sunday explaining that now is not the time for people to give up on protective measures.

“I know people are tired of this,” the doctor said in the NPR interview. “I’m tired of it too, believe me. But the virus is not tired of us. It’s having a great old time changing its shape every couple of months, coming up with new variants and figuring out ways to be even more contagious.”

FILE – In this May 7, 2020 file photo, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins attends a Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on new coronavirus tests on Capitol Hill in Washington. On Wednesday, May 20, 2020, the physician and geneticist was announced as the winner of the 2020 Templeton Prize, one of the world’s leading religion prizes for demonstrating how religious faith can motivate scientific research. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

Although initial scientific reports regarding omicron have found the variant to be more contagious yet not as severe, there are still many unknowns.

“Even if it has a somewhat lower risk of severity, we could be having a million cases a day if we’re not really attentive to all of those mitigation strategies,” Collins predicted on NPR.

Collins noted that omicron has 57 mutations, leading him to believe it’s “almost like we’re starting over with a different virus than where we began.”

President Joe Biden plans to give a speech Tuesday regarding the omicron variant and what his administration plans to do as cases surge across the country.

With holiday travel coming up, spread is most likely only going to increase across the country. However, Collins, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, who spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, are not canceling the holidays.

Collins said he plans to host a small group at his home this week, where everyone would be wearing masks and is vaccinated and boosted. Fauci also said he thinks fully-vaccinated travelers who wear masks should “be OK.”

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