“All of us have a date with omicron,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told The Associated Press on Dec. 20, adding "...and the best way you can encounter this is to be fully vaccinated.”
How worrisome is Omicron? There are three key questions that help scientists understand how consequential any variant might be.
Jha points to three traits that determine how worrisome a variant will be to mankind: transmissibility, virulence, "[a]nd third, will it render our immune defenses — from vaccines and prior infections — less effective (a phenomenon known as immune escape)."
Infections with the recently identified Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are exponentially increasing in multiple countries. Increases in infections are most likely due to a combination of two factors: increased transmissibility and the ability of the variant to evade immunity conferred by past infection or vaccination (i.e., immune evasion).
Though the precise contribution of each of the two factors remains unknown, a substantial degree of immune evasion is likely as has been demonstrated in early in vitro studies.
And that brings us to Adalja's warning, quoted by Mike Stobbe, a national medical writer for The Associated Press and professor at the University of North Carolina's Gillings School Of Global Public Health in an article about Omicron's out-competing the Delta variant, reflected by a six-fold increase of Omicron's share of infections in the week ending Dec. 20, accounting for 73% of new infections.
“All of us have a date with omicron,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “If you’re going to interact with society, if you’re going to have any type of life, omicron will be something you encounter, and the best way you can encounter this is to be fully vaccinated."
"We're all going to get this"
Adalja pointed to three countries to watch where Omicron had already become dominant: South Africa, the U.K., and Denmark. In a related post centered on Denmark's renowned Statens Serum Institut, Arieh Cohen, head of development at the lab that processes test results and conducts the initial variant analysis, tells The Washington Post's Rome-bureau chief, Chico Harlan:
“It’s moving so fast,” Cohen said, as more swabs arrived at the lab below his second-floor office. He said his chief concern was to keep things running. He called himself a “lab guy,” and said thinking about the bigger picture was for the epidemiologists. But he ventured: “I can’t help but have a fatalistic opinion: that we’re all going to get this.”
Adalja, who is an infectious disease expert, warned of rapid spread during the holidays, resulting in breakthrough infections among the fully vaccinated in the U.S. and more serious illness among the unvaccinated that could threaten to overwhelm hospitals, particularly those that are already inundated with patients who were infected with the Delta variant.
Two health metrics to watch closely
Jha, appearing on a Sunday show on Dec. 26, updated his guidance on the new variant as the U.S. climbs the steep slope of Omicron’s epidemic curve, reinforcing Adalja's predictions. Dominick Mastrangelo of The Hill reports:
“For two years, infections always preceded hospitalizations which preceded deaths, so you could look at infections and know what was coming," Ashish K. Jha, dean of Brown University and a former Harvard health expert said during an appearance on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "Omicron changes that. This is the shift we’ve been waiting for in many ways."
The country has shifted, Jha said, to a place where people who are vaccinated and especially those who have received a booster shot "are gonna bounce back" if they become infected with the coronavirus...
Jha said it remains important that health officials track infections among non-vaccinated individuals "because those people will end up in the hospital."
Jha added to his analysis on Monday, telling CNN's Jake Tapper, "That separation between infections and hospitalizations is essentially the transition we've been waiting for as we go from an acute phase of this pandemic towards more of an endemic phase."
Coronavirus update in U.S.
Here's where the U.S. is in the pandemic on Dec. 27, following Jha's guidance. The New York Times coronavirus tracker shows:
- Cases: 7-day average of 243,000 or 73 per 100,000 people, +105% in past 2 weeks
- Hospitalizations: 7-day average of 71,000 or 22 per 100,000, +6% in past 2 weeks
- Deaths: 7-day average of 1,200 or 0.40 per 100,000 people, [–5%] in past 2 weeks
If (when?) you test positive
On Monday, CDC shortened "the recommended time for isolation from 10 days for people with COVID-19 to 5 days, if asymptomatic, followed by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others," states their press release on Dec. 27.
The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after.
However, it's apparent that the widespread disruption caused by projections of massive infections during the Omicron wave, potentially a million a day in the U.S. played a major factor.
“The Omicron variant is spreading quickly and has the potential to impact all facets of our society,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," reports The New York Times.
In addition, quarantine guidance for anyone exposed to COVID-19 has been changed. In potentially what could be a sign of a possible change to the definition of "fully vaccinated," CDC applies the same quarantine guidelines to the unvaccinated and the unboosted who are 6-months out from their second shot.
Related in Planetizen:
- Coronavirus Geography: Denmark May Be an Omicron Harbinger, Dec. 27, 2021
- Public Health Experts Question CDC Catchphrase, 'Pandemic of the Unvaccinated,' Sept. 9, 2021
- Post-Pandemic: Living with COVID, January 31, 2021
- 'We are Entering the Steep Slope of the Epidemic Curve,' November 1, 2020
Indiana Once Again Considering Ban on Dedicated Transit Lanes
The proposed legislation would impact the construction of planned IndyGo Blue Line, the third phase of the city’s bus rapid transit system.
LA Freeway Ramp ‘Quietly Canceled’
A 2018 lawsuit forced Metro and Caltrans to do full environmental reviews of the project, leading to its cancellation.
LA’s ‘Spongy’ Infrastructure Captured Almost 9 Billion Gallons of Water
The city is turning away from stormwater management practices that shuttle water to the ocean, building infrastructure that collects and directs it underground instead.
Micromobility Operators Call for Better Links to Transit
For shared mobility to succeed, systems must tap into the connectivity and funding potential offered by closer collaboration with public transit.
Retaining Transit Workers Is About More Than Wages
An analysis of California transit employees found a high rate of burnout among operators who face unpredictable work schedules, high housing costs, and occasional violence.
California's Stormwater Potential
A new study reveals that if California could collect and treat more stormwater in cities, it could provide enough water to supply a quarter of the state’s urban population.
Tufts University Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning
City of Grand Forks, North Dakota
City of Birmingham, Alabama
City of Laramie, Wyoming
Colorado Department of Local Affairs
This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.