By David M. Greenwald
There is a shift going on—perhaps it’s the fact that Omicron is less severe but much more contagious than previous variants—about moving from a system of containment to management. The problem I have with that approach is it ignores that, while more people are vaccinated and overall the variant is less serious, it still poses substantial risk of hospitalization and, yes, even death.
The NY Times today noted, “Universities from Northeastern in Boston to the University of California-Davis have begun to discuss Covid in ‘endemic’ terms — a shift from reacting to each spike of cases as a crisis to the reality of living with it daily. And in some cases, there has been backlash.
“Most universities are still acting with caution. They are delaying the start of in-person classes and warning students that case counts could explode because of Omicron,” the Times reports. “Yet some universities are also saying that spikes in cases do not have to be as disruptive as they were in the earlier waves of the pandemic.”
The Times notes that Chancellor May “faced a strong negative reaction after a Dec. 30 statement in which he characterized the Omicron variant as ‘milder’ and suggested a shift to ‘living with Covid-19 at an endemic level.’”
Classes were going to resume on January 10 but a petition, signed by 7500 people, referenced May’s use of the term “endemic” and accused the university of “not prioritizing the immuno-compromised, the disabled, unvaccinated people, children, those who live with people from any of these groups, or the general health of the public.”
The result is that May announced this week that in-person classes are delayed until at least January 31.
The problem is, while for many people this disease, although extremely transmissible, produces mild symptoms, we are still seeing huge numbers of people hospitalized and dying—and that number figures to go up.
Everyone kind of has to figure out how they want to handle things.
Last week I made the decision to pull my kids out of school until this situation calms down a bit. Yesterday I was discussing the issue with a teacher in Davis who said, of his 85 students, 15 have caught it so far and he has been closely exposed a number of times.
“This ain’t right,” he said. “This is destroying education.”
My sister who teaches in Los Angeles said at their high school there were 257 positive cases last Friday.
LA this week topped 45,000 cases a day, California over 100,000 and the US 14-day average is at 806,000.
The number of cases is staggering. But I have had a few discussions this week with people who really believe that we need to get back to life as normal, that we need to stop panicking and that the severity of a lot of these cases is pretty mild.
There is some truth to that and the science suggests that Omicron does not invade the lungs nearly as thoroughly as Delta or other previous versions.
The problem, however, is that despite comments to the contrary this is not like having a cold. For one thing, I have read a lot of medical professionals saying that they have never seen anything as transmissible as Omicron.
Even with nearly two-thirds of the population and three-quarters of those over the age of 12 being fully vaccinated, this is a serious health threat.
We have seen the daily average soar to more than 800,000, nearly four times a year ago which was the previous peak.
But I’m also watching the hospitalizations, and they are spiking as well—now above the number from a year ago.
And what about deaths? Nearly 2000 people died yesterday from COVID. And that number has only really started going up in the last few weeks. Deaths are a lagging, not a leading, indicator.
The number of cases is still rising faster—113 percent increase over the last 14 days. Hospitalizations have increased by 73 percent. And deaths by 55 percent.
That’s not good news. That suggests that hospitalizations and deaths are still going to see a spike.
Sixty-five million have contracted the virus, 848,000 in the US have died. Some want to shrug off the deaths because it’s a small percentage. But even at one percent, that could mean 3 million deaths in the US if everyone got it.
Experts have warned that, yeah, it could become endemic, but it’s so transmissible that we could see new waves every six months that completely disrupt life and our economy. Vaccination and masking could knock down these waves very quickly, but people refuse to comply with basic common sense and, because of that, a lot of people are going to die who don’t need to right now.
Last week, the WHO (World Health Organization) director warned that, despite Omicron seeming to be less severe than Delta, it was a mistake to call the variant “mild.”
“While Omicron does appear to be less severe compared to Delta, especially in those vaccinated, it does not mean it should be categorized as ‘mild,’” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference. “Just like previous variants, Omicron is hospitalizing people, and it is killing people.”
Some have suggested that Omicron is a sign that COVID is going from pandemic to endemic.
But experts warn against that view. Professor Christina Pagel, the UCL (University College London) Director, in a tweet last week warned, “A virus isn’t endemic just cos a govt minister says it is and just cos people want it to be. The current pattern of waning vax, new immune evasive variants, and minimal public health response seem set to doom us to massive surges once or twice a year.”
She added, “If that continues we’ll keep picking off the vulnerable, keep stressing a weakening NHS, create more chronic illness & mass disruption through people off sick every time. Lower quality of life for all of us.”
That’s the problem and you can’t just shrug it off to immuno-compromised or older people—people who otherwise might live another decade or two are instead dying prematurely from what is now a largely preventable death.
I know people want to get on with their lives, but what happens if the world has simply changed—what that will look like going forward?