Friday, January 7, 2022

Quo vadis, Omicron?

What a difference a day makes. In my December 1 post, I said “While there have been no cases identified yet in the U.S., I would be shocked if there are not already a handful here.” Of course, now 5 weeks later, a local testing center said that 93% of Covid isolates in Massachusetts were Omicron.

Much of the early information about this variant has proved true. The Omicron variant is dramatically more easily transmitted than earlier variants; no disease but measles seems to spread as easily. Fortunately, it also remains true that Omicron is much less lethal than earlier variants. While the daily case counts in the state have increased 20-fold – from 1200 positive samples/day over last summer to 25,000/day this week, hospitalizations have “only” gone up five-fold – from 500 at the summer low to the current 2500 and daily Covid-related deaths have increased 4-fold, from 10/day to 40.

The fact that it is less deadly does not mean it is harmless. A virus that spreads 10 times as easily but kills half as many of those infects will kill 5 times as many people!

The good news for those who have followed the science is that the current serious cases are almost all among the unvaccinated. Hospitalization due to Omicron is 9-10 times greater among the unvaccinated than those who have had the full series (including booster).

A recent study found that prior Covid infection gave good SHORT-TERM (3-4 month) protection against the original virus and the Delta variant, but much less protection against Omicron.

There is also the very real concern that as hospitals are over-run with Covid cases, other treatments, including elective surgeries, have had to be delayed.

What should you be doing? If you are fully vaccinated, I would go about my life using just simple common-sense precautions. Avoid crowded venues when you cannot be sure that other people there are vaccinated and wearing masks. At theatres with good protocols for enforcing mask use and checking vaccination status, I am comfortable attending performances. Wear a mask when you are inside stores, museums, etc. Do what you enjoy outside. Gather with friends and family if you know all are vaccinated.

Nothing is risk-free. Getting in a car involves risk. Without being cavalier, I think those of us who are vaccinated and careful can enjoy getting back to living.

If you have been delaying, PLEASE get vaccinated.

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