The U.S. is having a surge in COVID-19 cases, and a lagging surge in deaths. The numbers I’m seeing in Georgia indicate that deaths are falling, and hospitalizations are falling, but case counts are spiking. This is omicron.
Omicron is more contagious than any previous variant. We know that in 1918, the Spanish Flu morphed into a milder form and burned out the pandemic, which remains as the seasonal endemic flu today. People still die from the flu, but most who get it live through it, miserable as it is.
Omicron is also more mild than other variants. Delta is more virulent and deadly, but not as transmissible. Reports of deaths lag case counts and positive tests. We’re seeing the rise in deaths from Delta, as sick people (nearly all unvaccinated) became hospitalized and some died. Those who contract omicron are much less likely to be hospitalized, never mind die. From the New York Times:
On Dec. 10, the C.D.C. released a report on the first 43 cases identified in the United States. Only about one-third of those infected with Omicron had traveled internationally in the two weeks before testing positive or developing symptoms. That finding indicated that Omicron was already spreading within the United States from person to person.
The study also offered early hints of how well the variant can overcome vaccination and immunity from previous infections. The majority of people infected with Omicron — 34 individuals — were fully vaccinated when they developed symptoms or tested positive for Covid. Fourteen had received a booster dose as well, while six had previously been infected with the coronavirus.
Only one of the 43 people required hospitalization, and none died. That doesn’t necessary mean that Omicron is mild compared to other variants. For one thing, the sample was too small to be representative. What’s more, young adults under 40 accounted for most of the cases. Older people are at far higher risk of severe Covid.
Most Americans over 65 are vaccinated. Many at-risk individuals are getting booster shots. Young people who are not vaccinated and did not get delta will probably get omicron and most will be completely asymptomatic. They will spread omicron widely among other unvaccinated individuals, and some will have breakthrough cases. Some number will get sick, like getting the flu. A few will die.
We are entering the endemic phase of COVID-19, when the diminishing returns of countermeasures become obvious. Yes, we could social distance, wear masks, and live like hermits to keep the flu from spreading (in fact, in 2020 we saw it works). But do we really want to live this way forever? I don’t.
COVID-19 is going to quickly become like the seasonal flu. If you want a booster, get a booster. If you get COVID, you’ll be sick. You may die. If you want a flu shot, get a flu shot. If you get the flu, you’ll be sick. You may die. This is how the virus will become, and we will live with it as we live with everything.
We don’t mandate lockdowns for the flu, and with omicron, we must not confuse what we’re seeing from delta, which was a much deadlier variant, with omicron, which is like the flu.
Follow Steve on Twitter @stevengberman.
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