Enter Omicron

Living with Coronavirus
Sunday November 28th, 2021
7:19 AM

I failed to write this up on Sunday or Monday.  My hands were nonfunctional, like a 90-year-old with full blown arthritis, despite testing negative for all forms of that disease and its cousins.  Part and parcel of my reality these days, so, I took down the raw numbers and waited.  Today my hands are better than they were, but not great.  Here’s to hoping the effort is viable.

Enter Omicron, the newest strain of C-19.  Blooming with a flourish in South Africa this strain burst upon the scene last week, taking South Africa by storm.  Cases which had been at around 200 per day rapidly became around 2500 cases per day.  Nearly a geometric rise, and that caught scientist’s attention.  Very soon after it was all over the news feed, with updates and changes, national responses followed in a torrent.

As thing stand, we know this, Omicron is very contagious.  It outperformed Delta in South Africa and now the majority of the cases are Omicron.  Doctors are finding it in all the people around whomever got ill, whole families right down to the infants and young folks from all walks of life.

It does not appear deadlier, however extreme contagiousness brings with it a host of other issues.  If a disease is more contagious more people get it, and that allows the disease to exploit underlying conditions and to overwhelm hospitals.  For instance; if Delta infects at a rate of about 1 to 1.2 people (meaning one infected person infects 1.2 others), then Omicron is at a rate of 1 to 2, at least.  More people infected means more strain on everything, and as a result more people will die.

What has South African doctors concerned is its raw contagion, whole families are coming in with it.  Most have little or no symptoms.  There does not seem to be an increase in lethality, it is no more dangerous than the original or Delta, but it infects almost twice as many people, so it spreads faster.  What has science concerned is twofold. 

Omicron’s initial symptoms are milder than Delta, and a lot of people had no symptoms at all and were being tested because close loved ones had caught it.  This means it is possible a lot of people already have it and are spreading it asymptomatically.  Each such infection might be medically mild, but offers the already heavily mutated virus an opportunity to mutate further.

Omicrons spike proteins show over 50 mutations already, when any viable mutation is a rarity.  This illustrates that C-19 is a rapid mutagen, changing quickly infection by infection.  Scientists are concerned it may evade vaccines due to its existing mutations which means the world could have it and spread it asymptomatically, allowing the virus ample and hidden room to mutate.

So, to sum up, Omicron is more sticky; more catchy or contagious; and may evade vaccine antibodies and natural antibodies in the bodies of both vaccinated and survivors.  It is a wildfire among unvaccinated peoples, which is much of South Africa.  Doctors there have already seen vaccine breakthrough cases with Omicron.

Maine is itself under the worst bloom thus far.  Our hospitals are maxed out; ICU’s full and nearly at total capacity statewide with Delta.  Omicron forecasts a possibility of double the case load, which would place Maine into crisis care.  Meaning Dr’s at ER’s would have to decide via triage who gets treatment and who is left to die, due to lack of space, staff, ventilators, or medicine.

Global Infected      257,282,155                   261,485,066                       
Increase             4,202,911
7-day average        600,415 infections diagnosed daily –Up

Global Dead          5,148,350                                          5,199,456
Increase             51,106
7-day average        7,300 deaths daily –Down slightly

USA Infected         47,701,533                                      48,229,210
Increase             527,677
7-day average        75,382 infections diagnosed daily –Down

USA C-19 deaths      771,013                                         776,639
Increase             5,626
7-day average        803 deaths daily –Down

Maine Infected       115,857                                           118,489                                                                
Increase             2,632
7-day average         376 infections diagnosed daily –Down

Maine deaths         1,271                                                1,303
Increase             32
7-day average        4.5714 deaths daily –Down

(Daily Mail)- “Scientists tonight sounded the alarm over a new ‘worst-ever’ super-mutant Covid variant that will make vaccines at least 40 per cent less effective, as Australia said it will monitor its progress ‘very carefully’.

Experts explained earlier how the B.1.1.529 variant has more than 30 mutations – the most ever recorded in a variant and twice as many as Delta – that suggest it could be more jab-resistant and transmissible than any version before it.

The variant – which could be named ‘Nu’ by the World Health Organization in the coming days – has caused an ‘exponential’ rise in infections in South Africa and has already spread to three countries – including Hong Kong and Botswana, where it is believed to have emerged.   

The Federal government is monitoring the progress of the variant and could ban flights from the affected African countries.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters on Friday morning that the variant was under investigation but ‘not a variant of concern’. “

BRUSSELS (AP) — “The discovery of a new coronavirus variant sent a chill through much of the world Friday as nations raced to halt air travel, markets fell sharply and scientists held emergency meetings to weigh the exact risks, which were largely unknown.

A World Health Organization panel named the variant “omicron” and classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern, the same category that includes the delta variant, the world’s most prevalent. The panel said early evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection.

Medical experts, including the World Health Organization, warned against any overreaction before the variant that originated in southern Africa was better understood. But a jittery world feared the worst nearly two years after COVID-19 emerged and triggered a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people around the globe.

“We must move quickly and at the earliest possible moment,” British Health Secretary Sajid Javid told lawmakers.

There was no immediate indication whether the variant causes more severe disease. As with other variants, some infected people display no symptoms, South African experts said.”

WP—”New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) declared a state of emergency in response to a winter coronavirus spike and the threat of the newly detected omicron variant on Friday, making her state one of the first in the country to impose measures against the mutation that was recently sequenced in southern Africa.

As part of the emergency, the state’s Health Department will be allowed to protect hospital capacity by limiting nonessential and non-urgent care until at least Jan. 15. Hospitals with less than 10 percent staffed bed capacity, or those designated by the state, will be authorized to screen patients and restrict admissions to keep beds open for the most urgent cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that omicron had not yet been detected in the United States, though Hochul said of the variant: “it’s coming.”

She also urged New Yorkers to mask up in indoor public venues, get tested when appropriate and to stay home when ill. She also reminded residents to get vaccinated or boosted against the coronavirus.”

LONDON (AP) — “Britain became the latest country Saturday to report cases of the new potentially more contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus as world governments sought to shore up their defenses by slapping restrictions on travel from nations in southern Africa.”

LONDON (AP) — WHAT IS THIS NEW COVID-19 VARIANT?  “South African scientists identified a new version of the coronavirus this week that they say is behind a recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province. It’s unclear where the new variant first emerged, but scientists in South Africa first alerted the World Health Organization and it has now been seen in travelers to Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the variant was linked to an “exponential rise” of cases in the last few days, although experts are still trying to determine if the new variant is actually responsible.

From just over 200 new confirmed cases per day in recent weeks, South Africa saw the number of new daily cases rocket to 2,465 on Thursday. Struggling to explain the sudden rise in cases, scientists studied virus samples from the outbreak and discovered the new variant.”

(AP)- “People line up to get on an overseas flight at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, Nov. 26, 2021. As the world grapples with the emergence of the new highly transmissible variant of COVID-19, worried scientists in South Africa — where omicron was first identified — are scrambling to combat its lightning spread across the country.”- By PAN PYLAS

LONDON (AP) — “Britain became the latest country Saturday to report cases of the new potentially more contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus as world governments sought to shore up their defenses by slapping restrictions on travel from nations in southern Africa.”

BRUSSELS (AP) —”The European Union nations on Friday agreed to impose a ban on travel from southern Africa to counter the spread of a new COVID-19 variant.

The 27 nations acted within hours upon the advice of the EU executive which said all needed to be extra cautious in dealing with the variant until it became clear how bad of a threat it would be, the EU presidency said in a statement.”

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — “As the world grapples with the emergence of the new highly transmissible variant of COVID-19, worried scientists in South Africa — where omicron was first identified — are scrambling to combat its lightning spread across the country.

In the space of two weeks, the omicron variant has sent South Africa from a period of low transmission to rapid growth of new confirmed cases. The country’s numbers are still relatively low, with 2,828 new confirmed cases recorded Friday, but omicron’s speed in infecting young South Africans has alarmed health professionals.

“We’re seeing a marked change in the demographic profile of patients with COVID-19,” Rudo Mathivha, head of the intensive care unit at Soweto’s Baragwanath Hospital, told an online press briefing.

“Young people, in their 20s to just over their late 30s, are coming in with moderate to severe disease, some needing intensive care. About 65% are not vaccinated and most of the rest are only half-vaccinated,” said Mathivha. “I’m worried that as the numbers go up, the public health care facilities will become overwhelmed.”

She said urgent preparations are needed to enable public hospitals to cope with a potential large influx of patients needing intensive care.

“We know we have a new variant,” said Mathivha. “The worst-case scenario is that it hits us like delta … we need to have critical care beds ready.”

What looked like a cluster infection among some university students in Pretoria ballooned into hundreds of new cases and then thousands, first in the capital city and then to nearby Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city.

Studying the surge, scientists identified the new variant that diagnostic tests indicate is likely responsible for as many as 90% of the new cases, according to South Africa’s health officials. Early studies show that it has a reproduction rate of 2 — meaning that every person infected by it is likely to spread it to two other people.

The new variant has a high number of mutations that appear to make it more transmissible and help it evade immune responses. The World Health Organization looked at the data on Friday and named the variant omicron, under its system of using Greek letters, calling it a highly transmissible variant of concern.

“It’s a huge concern. We all are terribly concerned about this virus,” Professor Willem Hanekom, director of the Africa Health Research Institute, told The Associated Press.

“This variant is mostly in Gauteng province, the Johannesburg area of South Africa. But we’ve got clues from diagnostic tests … that suggest that this variant is already all over South Africa,” said Hanekom, who is also co-chair of the South African COVID Variant Research Consortium.

“The scientific reaction from within South Africa is that we need to learn as much as soon as possible. We know precious little,” he said. “For example, we do not know how virulent this virus is, which means how bad is this disease that it causes?”

A key factor is vaccination. The new variant appears to be spreading most quickly among those who are unvaccinated. Currently, only about 40% of adult South Africans are vaccinated, and the number is much lower among those in the 20 to 40-year-old age group.

(AP)- “Moderna said it’s taking a three-prong approach to prepare for the new omicron coronavirus variant and could have a COVID-19 vaccine tailored specifically for the new virus strain early in 2022, if needed. The new COVID-19 variant is raising alarm bells around the world with fears that the mutated virus could lead to a new surge of infections.

If you’re 18 years of age and older in the US, you now qualify for a Moderna booster shot. That goes for those fully vaccinated with the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, too, because you can now mix and match vaccines from approved drug-makers. Authorization for the Moderna booster — along with Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson booster shots and Pfizer vaccines for kids — comes at a time when the deadly and contagious delta variant has a lock on the US and as the new omicron mutation emerges in South Africa.

There are still more questions about the Omicron variant than answers. While the mutations identified suggest it has the potential to be more resistant to vaccines, invade cells more efficiently and be more transmissible than other variants, it may also turn out to cause less severe disease or it could just simply fizzle out. However, what it does tell us is that so long as there are large populations of unvaccinated people enabling the virus to spread and mutate unabated, worrying new variants of concern like this will continue to emerge. Once again, as borders close and stock markets tumble, it tells us that this crisis is far from over, and without dramatic course correction, will go on for some time.

Given the rising levels of infection, the global shortage in ICU beds, the resumption of lockdowns and the riots, that much should already be obvious. And yet there is a growing perception – particularly in countries with high vaccine coverage where life appears to be returning to something close to normal – that COVID-19 has somehow become or is close to becoming endemic. That in itself is a concern, but a bigger worry now is that Omicron will trigger a knee-jerk response and a repeat of past mistakes. If the priority becomes to provide variant-specific boosters for people who are already protected, diverting efforts and resources from getting first doses to the 3.6 billion people who are still unvaccinated, then we could face a seemingly endless cycle of resurgences and new variants.”

Since the outset of Covid-19 there has been a right-wing pushback against public health measures aimed at combating the virus.  Even now, as Omicron rears its head, GOP members are calling it a hoax and a Democrat conspiracy to allow mail in voting again, due to the virus.  The virus does not care about your politics or mail in votes, it is a life form evolving to survive, just like humans and all other forms of life on Earth. 

The continued misinformation, and politicization of a virus has had a toll the world over.  Here we have endless parent protests over school masks and vaccine mandates.  Globally it has become a right-wing cause celeb. Brought to you by people claiming the left is full of snowflakes, because they do not want to wear a mask, or be told what to do, even from a doctor.

The right is expressing itself in protests, and is part and parcel of the new schism in Christianity itself.  This new schism is between traditional Christians and the new, hard right, political Christians; what we call Christian Nationalists.  Don’t take my word for this, it is what other Christians are saying themselves.

The Great Sort

“”If we are going to have one nation under God – which we must – we have to have one religion,” said Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and was pardoned by then-President Donald Trump last November.  Flynn followed the pattern of Christian nationalism by taking a biblical passage aimed at Christ’s disciples and applying it to the United States.

“You have to believe this, that God Almighty is, like, involved in this country, because this is it. …This is the shining city on the hill,” Flynn said.

That the response to Flynn has been both swift and polarized is indicative of what I see as the “Great Sort” in American Christianity. For the past decade, we have begun to see a transition in the rationale for how many self-identifying Christians make decisions about their local church membership, relationships and serving.

Now, instead of Scripture, doctrine or worship providing a central role in church association and participation, political identity is squarely in the driver’s seat.

As I explained in Outreach Magazine, Christians are increasingly sorting themselves into churches that reflect their ideology.

Politics has always played a major role in religious identification, but now Christians are more actively disassociating and associating with churches based upon their political affiliations. This is primarily why once-fringe voices like Flynn, Stella Immanuel, Mike Lindell, Charlie Kirk and Lin Wood have been able to find significant followings in churches around the country.

As opposing or moderate voices leave and new members are attracted by a political alignment, churches are becoming less politically diverse and more vocally partisan.

Critically, this is not a sort between patriotism versus Christianity. Often maligned, patriotism can be good and noble. Rather, this sort pits Christianity against Christian nationalism, a perversion of the faith that subverts its mission.

The rhetoric of the Re-Awaken tour reeks of such Christian nationalism. It utilizes Christian ideas, language and spaces but submits these to nationalistic ends. By identifying America as God’s chosen nation and calling for a religious establishment, Flynn and others offer a gospel mission that is a distorted caricature of the one to which Christians are called.

As we look for ways to respond to the Great Sort, Christians and non-Christians alike should reflect on the genius of our political tradition of religious liberty. Beginning with the Founders and proven consistently throughout our history, providing people with freedom to believe and practice their faith strengthens our democracy, our communities and our institutions.

This is, in part, why the Baptist John Leland is a personal hero. Standing for religious liberty in America’s early years when few others would, Leland argued, “All should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

What Leland understood – and what many Christians today must relearn – is that when one faith is enforced or even preferred by the government, society loses. When those of us who identify as Christians allow the government to pick whose freedoms are recognized, we undermine our own religious liberties. It is a misnomer to think that protecting the rights of people to believe whatever they choose is a tacit endorsement of other faiths. On the contrary, for Christians to stand for religious liberty is a statement of our confidence in the Gospel.

Beyond the importance of religious liberty to our democracy, any ideology that attempts to establish Christian political domination – in other words, a theocracy – reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of Christ and the Christian faith. At its core, the power of the Christian faith is in its ability to transform the heart, not coerce behavior. Jesus modeled this in his own ministry, refusing to set up a political theocracy on earth even as many in his day expected the Messiah would do just that.

At every turn, Christ confounded these expectations and modeled an understanding of a kingdom “not of this world.” (John 18:36). Instead of power and domination, we find Christ modeling sacrifice and forgiveness.

When professing Christians are far more enthusiastic about the glory of America than proclaiming an ancient faith that transcends our nation, they reveal themselves to be at odds with this model.

The message of Jesus seems to be far less a priority for many who name the name of Jesus than “standing for truth” and conflating Christianity with a nationalistic bent. When speakers at events held in the name of Christ are also speakers who wonder aloud whether America needs a coup like we saw in Myanmar, the Great Commandment and the Great Commission have been replaced by exceptionalism and nationalism.

If we believe that the Christian faith transforms lives, we must resist the pull to coerce people into words and behaviors that we know are worthless before God. Instead, we must trust in the power of the Gospel – and only the Gospel – to save.

One mission is the way of anger, conspiracies and more. The other involves showing and sharing the love of Jesus to a broken and hurting world.

Christians are going to have to choose which way is the way of Jesus.”
Ed Stetzer is a dean and professor at Wheaton College, where he leads the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center.

(Daily Beast)-“A prosecutor in the northern Italian province of Bolzano has opened an investigation after one man died and several others landed in intensive care after they reportedly attended a COVID party to try to get sick.

The trend has taken hold in northern Italy, where people who don’t want to get vaccinated are trying to get COVID to acquire a Green Pass to work, go inside bars and restaurants, and ride public transportation. In Italy, proof of recovery is sufficient to get the coveted pass for six months.

“There are young people, even of school age, who meet with positives and try to acquire the infection, not realizing that the virus is also dangerous in children and in young people, there are long-term consequences and even the less elderly can end up in hospital.” – Patrick Franzoni.

At the parties, the infected mingle, kiss, and hug the unvaccinated in order to spread the virus, Franzoni said, adding the infected person could face criminal charges for knowingly spreading the virus during a state of emergency, which Italy is under because of the pandemic. According to the initial investigation, some of the parties are being held in outdoor areas of bars, which are accessible without a Green Pass. There, an infected person will drink out of a glass or bottle of beer and pass it around to try to spread the virus. Other events are held in private homes. In one case, the infected person was bedridden and the guests are said to have gathered around the sickbed to try to breathe in the virus.”

(AP)-“German Chancellor Angela Merkel is painting a darkening picture for Europe, as a new surge of COVID-19 grips the eurozone’s largest economy and risks triggering a fresh round of mobility restrictions.

Merkel has described the scene tied to COVID infections as “worse than anything Germany has experienced so far,” according to a report from Bloomberg News, citing people familiar with comments she made to officials in her Christian Democratic Party recently.

The news organization said the German leader also characterized the situation as “highly dramatic,” cautioning that a renewed spread of the deadly infectious disease in the country could once again overwhelm hospitals and undermine an economic recovery.

Merkel’s comments come as Germany has been registering record daily COVID-19 infection numbers for weeks, and over the weekend sometimes violent protests broke out in the continent over the increasing restrictions to limit the fresh surge in the disease that has upended normalcy in the world for well over a year.”

SEATTLE (AP) — “A week and a half after damaging floods in Washington state, forecasters warned that multiple “atmospheric rivers” threaten to once again drench the Pacific Northwest beginning Thanksgiving Day.

More moisture from atmospheric rivers — huge plumes of moisture extending over the Pacific and into the Northwest — is expected to bring up to 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) of rain in some areas hit by the recent flooding, forecasters said. Officials from the National Weather Service predict periods of moderate to heavy rain through Wednesday, as the first in a series of systems move across the region. The state is assessing millions of dollars in damage from the last atmospheric rivers.”

As I worked on this with bad hands another 51,106 of my fellow humans died of C-19, of those 5,626 were my fellow Americans, and of those 32 were my fellow Mainers.

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