The details of Omicron are becoming clearer and more encouraging.
They’re not entirely encouraging, and I will get into some detail about one of the biggest problems — the stress on hospitals, which are facing huge numbers of moderately ill Covid-19 patients. Regular readers of this newsletter will know that I try not to allow bad-news bias to infect journalism. (Journalists are more comfortable reporting bad news straight away than good news, but we journalists are less comfortable reporting it without any caveats.
I want to make it clear: The most recent evidence regarding Covid’s existence is mostly positive. A few weeks ago, many experts and journalists were warning that the initial evidence from South Africa — suggesting that Omicron was milder than other variants — might turn out to be a mirage. It has been proven to be real.
“In hospitals around the country, doctors are taking notice,” my colleagues Emily Anthes and Azeen Ghorayshi write. “This wave of Covid seems different from the last one.”
Omicron is at least three ways Omicron appears to be significantly milder than other viruses:
1. Hospitalizations are less frequent
Omicron-infected patients are less likely to require hospital treatment than those infected by an earlier version.
According to an analysis of Houston patients, Omicron patients are only one-third as likely as Delta patients to require hospitalization. The government reported that Omicron patients were half as likely in Britain to require hospitalization. Emily and Azeen note that the pattern is similar in Canada.
Despite this, hospitalizations are on the rise in the U.S. because Omicron is so contagious that there has been an explosion of cases. Covid-related absences are partly responsible for hospitals running out of beds and staff. More people are being hospitalized in Maryland with Covid than ever before.
“Thankfully the Covid patients aren’t as sick. But there’s so many of them,” Craig Spencer, an emergency room doctor in New York, tweeted on Monday, after a long shift. “The next few weeks will be really, really tough for us.”
The biggest potential problem is that overwhelmed hospitals will not be able to provide patients — whether they have Covid or other conditions — with straightforward but needed care. Some may die as a result. That possibility explains why many epidemiologists still urge people to take measures to reduce Covid’s spread during the Omicron surge. It’s likely to last at least a couple more weeks in the U.S.
2. Milder hospitalization
Omicron is more likely to send someone to the emergency room than other hospitals. Even for people who require hospital care, symptoms tend to be milder than those who were hospitalized in previous waves.
Omicron is not as harmful to the lungs than previous versions of Covid. Omicron is more likely to be focused in the nose or throat than earlier versions of Covid, which makes it less likely that patients will have breathing problems or require a ventilator.
As Dr. Rahul Sharma of NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell told The Times, “We’re not sending as many patients to the I.C.U., we’re not intubating as many patients, and actually, most of our patients that are coming to the emergency department that do test positive are actually being discharged.”
The number of ventilator-using patients in London has remained relatively constant over the past week, despite the rise in cases, John Burns-Murdoch, The Financial Times noted.
3. What about deaths?
In the U.S., mortality trends typically trail case trends by about three weeks — which means the Omicron surge, which began more than a month ago, should be visible in the death counts. It isn’t yet:
Experts believe that covid deaths will continue to rise in the U.S. over the next few days or weeks. Data can be delayed by major holidays. Another reason is that millions of adults are still not vaccinated or vulnerable.
The increase in deaths this summer is unlikely to be nearly as significant as the increase during the Delta wave. Take a look at South Africa’s data, where the Omicron wave has already receded.
The bottom line
How can people respond to this combination of milder and rising cases?
Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore’s former health commissioner, wrote a helpful Washington Post article in which she urged a middle path between reinstituting lockdowns and allowing Omicron to spread unchecked.
“It’s unreasonable to ask vaccinated people to refrain from pre-pandemic activities,” Wen said. “After all, the individual risk to them is low, and there is a steep price to keeping students out of school, shuttering restaurants and retail shops and stopping travel and commerce.”
However, she encouraged people to get booster shot and suggested that they wear N95 and KN95 masks. She also encouraged governments to mandate vaccinations for businesses and governments. All of these measures can reduce the spread, and in turn, hospital crowding, and death.
What about elderly or immunocompromised people, who have been at some risk of major Covid illness even if they’re vaccinated?
Different people will make different decisions, and that’s OK. Severely immunocompromised people — like those who have received organ transplants or are actively receiving cancer treatment — have reason to be extra cautious. However, for otherwise healthy older persons, the latest data may be sufficient to influence their behavior.
Consider this: Before Omicron, a typical vaccinated 75-year-old who contracted Covid had a roughly similar risk of death — around 1 in 200 — as a typical 75-year-old who contracted the flu. (Here are the details of that calculation, which is based upon an academic study.
Omicron has made the calculation different. Covid is now less dangerous than the annual flu because it is milder than previous versions.
There is a risk that the flu can cause serious complications for seniors. Over the next few weeks, the Omicron surge could be a reason to be cautious due to its size. But the combination of vaccines and Omicron’s apparent mildness means that, for an individual, Covid increasingly resembles the kind of health risk that people accept every day.
A new “Scream”
In 1996, “Scream” turned every slasher trope on its head: Its characters were talky and well-versed in the genre’s rules, rolling their eyes at its clichés. The movie infused horror with self-aware humor, inspiring many imitators and reviving its director Wes Craven’s career. His final film before his death would be “Scream 4” in 2011.
Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox have returned to meta-horror with a new film after more than a decade. The plot: A Ghostface-mask-wielding killer is threatening Woodsboro and requiring the attention of the original trio.
Arquette was moved by the shoot. In circumstances mirroring the former couple’s real life, Arquette and Cox acted out a story in which their “Scream” characters have split up. “There were moments when I felt Wes’s spirit around a lot,” he said. “There would be a wind blowing and I’d see Courteney’s hair move back. And then it’s just like —” He made an exaggeratedly mournful weeping noise. “It made it really easy to tap into those feelings.”
Campbell said she was grateful to play a horror-movie heroine who wasn’t a helpless victim. “I’m very lucky, as a woman, to have gotten a role where people come up to me and say, ‘Sidney Prescott inspired me — Sidney Prescott made me more courageous, made me less insecure, made me stand up for myself,’” she said. — Sanam Yar, a Morning writer
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Source: NY Times