In recent days, as word of Omicron spread, Dr. Michelmore said his lab revived a program to acquire and examine samples from underserved populations. Though it is too early to know just how dangerous Omicron is, Dr. Michelmore has little doubt that it will soon turn up in his lab.

“It’s a matter of when,” Dr. Michelmore said. “My prediction, we will have seen it probably by Christmas.”

The introduction of Omicron comes at a precarious moment in the country’s virus fight. Though infection and hospitalization levels remain far lower nationally than they were a year ago, before vaccines were available, some states in the Upper Midwest and Northeast are overrun with the Delta variant and are enduring their worst case surges of the pandemic.

Federal medical teams have been sent to bolster staffing at hospitals in Minnesota and Michigan. Case rates have soared to record levels in Vermont and New Hampshire. And in Nebraska, hospital officials have held news conferences this week to issue warnings about limited capacity and pleas to get vaccinated.

“It’s serious: Our hospitals, they’re out of resources at this point in terms of beds,” said Dr. Huse, the county health director.

It has been almost two years since the virus began to emerge in the United States — including in overseas travelers who quarantined on the same Omaha campus where the six Omicron cases were detected this week. Unlike back then, Omicron has so far not brought a push to impose lockdowns or sweeping restrictions on everyday life. Instead, as Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska put it in a statement on Friday after the state’s new cases were announced, there is a sense that “coronavirus will be with us forever.”

“Nebraska has maintained one of the lowest coronavirus death rates and protected our hospital capacity all without lockdowns, without mask mandates and without vaccine mandates,” Mr. Ricketts, a Republican, said in a statement.

He pledged that those policies would continue.

Noah Weiland and Apoorva Mandavilli contributed reporting.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<