But “the challenge is that the entire country is not moving at the same pace,” he said, adding “we shouldn’t expect a national peak in the coming days.”
“The next few weeks will be tough,” he said.
The highly contagious Omicron variant has fueled an explosive surge of known cases, with an average of more than 800,000 new cases a day reported on Saturday, according to a New York Times database.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, also expressed concerns that the next several weeks would overwhelm hospitals and staff. “Right now we’re at about 150,000 people in the hospital with Covid,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “That’s more than we’ve ever had. I expect those numbers to get substantially higher.”
In Kansas City, Mo., Omicron has overwhelmed hospitals since the holiday season, the city’s mayor, Quentin Lucas, said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“We have seen incredible challenges in our health care network, even getting employees that are working in our EMS services, fire department and in public safety,” Mr. Lucas said. “It is a substantial concern.”
In addition, Omicron has brought into sharp relief the longstanding lack of adequate testing supplies, with consumers now depleting pharmacies of costly rapid tests — a boxed set of two tests ranges from $14 to $24 — and creating long lines at testing sites.
But with the test orders and reimbursement processes hampered by delays, Americans will likely not have tests in hand for weeks, which may be too late in some places where demand is high as infections spread.
“We’ve ordered too few testing kits, so our testing capacity has continued to lag behind each wave,” Tom Bossert, the homeland security adviser to President Trump, said on ABC’s “This Week.” “It’s too little and too late, but noteworthy for the next wave.”
“Well, the news about the workplace requirement being blocked was very disappointing,” Dr. Murthy said. “It was a setback for public health. Because what these requirements ultimately are helpful for is not just protecting the community at large; but making our workplaces safer for workers as well as for customers.”
Nearly 63 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, but only 38 percent of those have received a booster shot, which some have argued should be the new definition of full vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not changed the definition of full vaccination, but said recently it considers three doses of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna’s vaccines to be “up-to-date,” as well as Johnson & Johnson’s shots with a second dose, preferably of Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech.
Last week, the C.D.C. finally acknowledged that cloth masks do not offer as much protection as a surgical mask or respirator, which some experts have urged the agency to recommend for the general public. The advent of Omicron with its highly transmissible rate pushed public health officials to promote higher mask shields, like KN95 and N95 masks that offer more than 90 percent protection.
“I think the White House needs to get its messaging discipline together, needs to make sure that people are speaking from the same page,” Dr. Jha said. While science has changed, the messaging “has not kept up,” he added.