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Can omicron overtake the delta variant? Here's what it will take

Rong-Gong Lin II and Luke Money, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — With a handful of cases now confirmed across the country, it’s clear that the worrisome, mutated omicron variant has secured a toehold in the United States.

But whether these initial infections ultimately fade out or prove to be the beachhead for a new viral assault depends largely on how the strain stacks up against a now-familiar foe: the delta variant.

Since it officially burst onto the scene last week, much of the discussion surrounding the omicron variant of the coronavirus has centered around what scientists admit they don’t know — whether it might spread more easily than other strains, change disease severity or more readily evade vaccine protection.

Yet just as important a question, suggests John Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College, is this: What if it’s no match for the devil we know?

“Can delta outcompete omicron, or will omicron thrive in the face of delta?” Moore said Thursday at a forum sponsored by UC San Francisco. “That’s just a complete unknown at the moment.”

Omicron may not become dominant in the U.S.


The delta variant has long been the dominant strain circulating in the U.S. — and it was the culprit behind a renewed wave of cases, hospitalizations and deaths that swept across the country during the summer.

But even the term “dominant” undersells just how widespread delta is. In the United States, it’s nearly omnipresent.

“I know that the news is focused on omicron, but we should remember that 99.9% of cases in the country right now are from the delta variant,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Delta continues to drive cases across the country, especially in those who are unvaccinated.”

The reason for the strain’s supremacy is simple. It’s the most transmissible variant of the coronavirus yet.


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