The omicron variant has driven new cases to alarming levels in the past two weeks, causing some universities and businesses to mandate boosters or adopt more severe restriction measures again in an echo that reminds people of the early phases of the pandemic.
Vice President Kamala Harris claimed this week that the Biden administration "didn’t see" the delta or omicron variants coming, but Fauci said that health experts had warned about variants – just not variants of this specific kind.
"We definitely saw variants coming," Fauci said on CNN’s "State of the Union." "What was not anticipated was the extent of the mutations in the amino acid substitutions in omicron, which was really unprecedented."
The omicron variant developed 50 mutations – a significant increase over the delta’s variants 10 or so mutations. Most alarming is that 30 of the mutations occurred on the spike protein, which is what helps the virus potentially evade the heightened protection produced by vaccines.
"When you have so much replication going on in the community, to give a virus enough opportunity to replicate, you know it’s ultimately going to mutate, and sometimes those mutations wind up a new variant," Fauci explained. "That’s what happened with delta, certainly that’s what happened with omicron."
One of the ways to handle the omicron variant is to test regularly, but massive lines have created a backlog for testing and a dearth of take-home testing.
Fauci said the government plans to make a significant investment in testing capacity in order to get around this issue.
"What the government has been doing now, and you’re going to be seeing the result of that, is making investments literally in billions of dollars to get anywhere between 200 million to 500 million tests available per month, which means there will be a lot of tests," Fauci told ABC’s "This Week." "Many of them will be free."
"There are going to be 10,000 centers that are going to be giving out free testing," he added, speculating that the public will see those results two to three weeks from now.