About a month ago, South Africa alerted the world to Omicron. Instead of being praised and rewarded for their due diligence and global empathy, they were ostracized and isolated. Many world leaders scrambled in a panic to close borders and concurrently dismissed the variant as “more contagious but less dangerous” than Delta in an attempt to pacify their citizenry. Here’s what they didn’t tell you.
The Omicron variant is the most contagious, evasive, and prolific version of the COVID19 Coronavirus ever seen. In South Africa, from Nov. 19 – Dec. 17 it accounts for 78.74% of samples compared to 15.13% of Delta. It has a doubling rate of 2-3 days.
The Omicron variant largely evades immunity from past infection or two vaccine doses according to the latest Imperial modeling. It is 3-8 times more likely to infect someone who has previously been infected than other variants. Omicron also appears to have more impact on those who were infected long ago. Those infected longer ago had a higher risk of reinfection.
In South Africa, Omicron spread twice as fast as the highly infectious Delta variant. In Britain, officials have estimated that 200,000 people (highest single-day totals ever) are becoming infected with Omicron every day. In Denmark, Omicron cases are doubling roughly every two days.
The South African Medical Research Council found that, whereas two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine offered 80% protection against infection before the Omicron wave, against Omicron the protection dropped to 33%. Its effectiveness in reducing the risk of severe disease is also lower: two doses of the Pfizer vaccine reduced the risk by 70% (down from 93% for Delta).
Omicron was associated with a 5.4 times higher risk of reinfection compared with Delta. To put this into context, in the pre-Omicron era, a UK study of COVID infection in healthcare workers estimated that prior infection afforded 85% protection against a second COVID infection over 6 months. The reinfection risk estimated in the current study suggests this protection has fallen to 19% against an Omicron infection.
Breakthrough infections are common. This week, Denmark reported that three-quarters of its Omicron cases occurred in people who had received two vaccine doses. And a recent outbreak at Cornell University, where 97 percent of the population has reportedly been double vaccinated, they had to close the campus due to an outbreak that infected 1100+ in less than a week.
Vaccines effectiveness estimates against symptomatic Omicron infection are between 0% and 20% after two doses, and between 55% and 80% after a booster dose.
The reports from South Africa suggest that in the Omicron era, two doses of the Pfizer vaccine provided just 33% protection against infection and 70% protection against hospitalization — down from 80% and 93% in earlier months.
There are stark differences between South Africa and the United States that make it risky to rely too much on the early data. Mild COVID-19 is the overwhelming norm in South Africa because 73% of South Africans are younger than 40 (compared with 52% in the U.S.), an age group in which risks of severe disease are low. Just 16% of South Africans are older than 60 (compared with 23% here).
So, you’ve heard that Omicron is “mild” compared to Delta. But by producing a mild illness and leaving just a little immunity in their wake, Omicron is more dangerous to our collective health. Once lodged in the upper airways of the respiratory system, the virus is expelled by simply breathing by the asymptotic. And the sniffles and coughs from symptomatic people ensure that infectious particles get spewed into the air and left behind on surfaces. But the mildness of those symptoms also allows infected hosts to go to school, work, supermarkets, gyms, and movie theaters, to better spread their germs.
More infections lead to more cases which leads to more hospital visits. If the number of severe illnesses is cut by 50% but we have to multiply that number 5 times, you can easily see how Omicron is Apocalypse Now.
The G7 calls Omicron the ‘biggest threat’ to global health. Dr.Fauci says 5 months after the 2nd shot there is “virtually no degree of neutralization protection.” President Biden says: “for the unvaccinated, you’re looking at winter of severe illness and death, for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm.”
The population of the UK is about 68 million compared to 330 million in the USA. We have almost 5 times their population. They are averaging over 200,000 new cases a day less than one month after Omicron was first discovered. That is the most ever since the pandemic started. That means in another month we could see 1 million new cases daily.
The number of people testing positive in New York City doubled in three days this week culminating in the highest one-day total of new cases since the beginning of the pandemic. On Friday, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced 21,027 new positive cases statewide. Breaking the previous record of 19,942 reported on January 14, 2021.
The Omicron variant appears to be doubling every 2-3 days in the US. It is 5 times more contagious than the Delta variant. We are currently averaging 120,000 new cases daily. Again, this means we could be at 1 million new cases a day in a couple of weeks.
In some states, our hospital systems are at the brink of collapse. Leading Governors, like Dewine of Ohio to send 1000 National Guard troops to the hospitals. New Hampshire, Maine, and Michigan have also called in the National Guard to help overwhelmed hospitals. The US military has already been deploying medical assistance teams to battle COVID-19 surges in multiple states.
Some hospitals have been forced to implement CRISIS OF CARE policies. That means they have to judiciously choose who receives critical care based on viability to survive due to limited resources. If an ICU unit has only 12 beds but simultaneously has 16 patients needing life-sustaining support such as a ventilator, then doctors are forced to make unimaginable life-ending decisions for some patients.
Even more troubling, yet nonetheless deadly, is the fact that some hospital administrators are being forced to turn away non-COVID patients due to a lack of staff, space, and resources.
Many patients who need important but non-life-threatening surgeries like Cancer surgeries, gallbladder removal, hip replacement, or heart treatments are being postponed. This has compelled many people to forgo medical treatment altogether further exacerbating and jeopardizing their already fragile health.
The crucial reason that our healthcare system is in jeopardy of a catastrophic collapse is the human factor. We are amid a monumental staffing shortage. We can’t clone, borrow, steal, or hire & train qualified critical care personnel to match the upcoming demand.
The reason we can’t handle the impending doom of the Omicron surge is not that we can’t find, manufacture or create beds. It’s because we can’t find, manufacture or create the people with the requisite technical skills to run those beds.
This is for a myriad of reasons. Many doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists have quit, retired, or are unable to continue working. Some have died due to COVID or have become disabled as a result. Many are burnt out, suffering from fatigue, mental stress, anxiety, aggravation, depression, and despair. After 22 months in this battle, these once lauded heroes on the frontline, have been vilified and maligned as conspiratorial puppets of the government.
After being castigated, criticized, and called tools, many have wondered why should I continue in this thankless profession? So they have left it. Others, who believe in conspiracies have left because of vaccine mandates or have been terminated for their refusal to get vaccinated.
Conversely, many soldier on at great risk to their health and families. A common refrain of frontline healthcare workers is not if they will get infected but when… Imagine the mental stress of going to work every day wondering if ‘today is going to be the day.’
Nevertheless, based on simple math and irrefutable published science of the imminent Omicron surge, we are heading for dark days. Apocalypse Now. As with the days following Pearl Harbor and our simultaneous extraordinary battle in Europe during WWII, we are in a 2 front war for our continued existence as we know it. Omicron is not only an existential threat to our collective health but also to our teetering economy. Imagine if we have to go back to shutdowns.
Now more than ever, we must come together to fight our common enemy, the Coronavirus COVID19. We must defeat it. A stalemate won’t suffice because as long as it has potential hosts it will continue to mutate and overcome, overwhelm, and outsmart our defensive measures.
So, we must unite in this fight to conquer this menace. First and most importantly, we must limit the number of soldiers it has. Anyone not vaccinated is a potential host therefore that person is technically fighting for and with the enemy. Unfortunately, vaccine mandates seem to be our only viable option because trying to compete in the information arena is too slow and ineffective.
Secondly, we must limit the number of viral infections by lifestyle changes to prevent the spread to the vaccinated population. Mandated masks use, HVAC improvements, telecommuting, free home testing, mandatory quarantine when infected, criminalizing immunization fraud, a 6-month nationwide ban on gatherings over 100 people, and penalized enforcement of mandate violations.
America is strong. We will survive but at what cost? We are on pace, pre-Omicron to lose 1 million souls to this dreadfully, deadly virus. As I’ve said before, this virus is like an avalanche. You can’t stop it but you can evade it. If you’re smart, quick, and focused.
After reading this you may be paralyzed with fear. Action is better than inaction, especially against a formidable opponent. We can’t just continue to take punches. I wrote this to prepare you, NOT to scare you. Share this with friends, family, and coworkers. Let’s unite to obliterate this menace, once and for all.
Consequently, with the holidays coming up you may be wondering what exactly you should or shouldn’t do to protect yourself and your loved ones. Below is a 7-minute excerpt from Dr. Ashish Jha on How to safely navigate the holidays amid rising COVID cases:
NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly speaks with Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University School of Public Health, about safely navigating the holidays amid rising COVID-19 case numbers.