Happy Omicron New Year’s

Living with Coronavirus
(SARS-CoV-2)
Sunday January 2nd, 2021
8:49 AM

I did not want to write today, just too damn depressing riding a wave of Omicron into the new year.  Good news, it is so infectious it is replacing Delta!  Bad news, it is so contagious it is replacing Delta!  It might be less lethal, but at double the number of infected or more, it will strain the medical system globally, when it is already bent under two years of pandemic level disease.

I do not want to do the math today.  I have put it off for hours.  I can see from a glance it is not good news with infections way up. Think of it like this, let’s say Omicron is less lethal, say half as lethal as Delta, but also much more infectious. So, if you have less serious cases by half, but have increased cases by nearly a factor of 8, then math is not on your side as a health care worker.

Global Infected      279,549,067                                   289,358,202                       
Increase             9,809,135
7-day average        1,401,305 infections diagnosed daily –Up, almost double

Global Dead          5,398,446                                          5,442,035
Increase             43,589
7-day average        6,227 deaths daily –Down, almost static, unchanged

USA Infected         52,098,906                                       54,859,057
Increase             2,760,151
7-day average        394,307 infections diagnosed daily –Up, more than double

USA C-19 deaths      816,533                                         825,819
Increase             9,286
7-day average        1,326 deaths daily –Down, almost static

Maine Infected       141,780                                           146,736                                                
Increase             4,956
7day average         708 infections diagnosed daily –Down, our Delta wave is cresting

Maine deaths         1,475                                                1,531
Increase             56
7-day average        8 deaths daily –Up, almost double, peak of Delta wave

All of this begs “When will the pandemic end, and how?  This week I found a historical comparison of previous pandemics and how they ended. 

LA Times

“This is not humanity’s first time staring down a seemingly unstoppable disease. Pandemics (a disease affecting a large number of people in multiple countries or regions around the world, per the World Health Organization), epidemics (a disease affecting people in a country or region) and outbreaks (a sudden occurrence of an infectious disease) have plagued us throughout history. Just in the past century, we’ve survived a few. How did those end? And how might we get ourselves out of this one?

Spanish flu

How it started: Unclear, but probably not in Spain. It was a particularly deadly strain of H1N1 influenza and first took root in the U.S. in Kansas.

The disease was so virulent and killed so many young people that if you heard, “‘This is just ordinary influenza by another name,’ you knew that was a lie,” said John Barry, the author of “The Great Influenza. “There was “zero partisanship” over the virus, Barry said. If the flu did hit your town, it hit hard: A young person could wake up in the morning feeling well and be dead 24 hours later. Half the people who died of the flu in 1918 were in their 20s and 30s. “It was a spooky time,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Assn.

So how did we, as a species, beat the Spanish flu? We didn’t. We survived it. It torched through individual communities until it ran out of people to infect. A third of the world’s population was believed to have contracted the Spanish flu during that pandemic, and it had a case-fatality rate of as high as 10-20% globally and 2.5% in the United States. (Johns Hopkins University reports the COVID-19 case fatality rate in the U.S. is 1.6% as of Dec. 2021.) Roughly 675,000 people in America died out of a population of 103.2 million, a number recently surpassed by COVID-19 victims of a 2020 U.S. population of 329.5 million. Flu vaccines wouldn’t be developed until the 1930s and wouldn’t become widely available for another decade.

Ultimately, the virus went through a process called attenuation. Basically, it got less bad. We still have descendent strains of the Spanish flu floating around today. It’s endemic, not a pandemic.

As a society, we accept a certain amount of death from known diseases. The normal seasonal flu usually kills less than 0.1% of people who contract it. Deaths have been between 12,000 and 52,000 people in the U.S. annually for the past decade.

The regular seasonal flu is both less contagious and less deadly than COVID-19. That people were washing hands, working from home and socially distancing in the winter 2020 flu season likely contributed to the fact that it was a comparably light flu season. Though business and school closures weren’t enough to stave off the devastating winter surge of COVID, the measures were sufficient to keep the flu at bay. One strain may have been completely extinguished.

As places reopen and people feel more confident about socializing and traveling again, the flu could make a calamitous comeback. (By the way, have you gotten your flu shot yet?)

How it ended: Endemic

Polio

How it started: The first documented polio epidemic in the United States was in 1894. Outbreaks occurred throughout the first half of the 20th century, primarily killing children and leaving many more paralyzed.

Polio reached pandemic levels by the 1940s. There were more than 600,000 cases of polio in the United States in the 20th century, and nearly 60,000 deaths — a case fatality rate of 9.8%. In 1952 alone, there were 57,628 reported cases of polio resulting in 3,145 deaths.

“Polio was every mother’s scourge,” Benjamin said. “People were afraid to death of polio.”

Polio was highly contagious: In a household with an infected adult or child, 90% to 100% of susceptible people would develop evidence in their blood of also having been infected. Polio is not spread through the air — transmission occurs from oral-oral infection (say, sharing a drinking glass), or by “what’s nicely called hand-fecal,” Paula Cannon, a virology professor at the USC Keck School of Medicine, told me. “People poop it out, and people get it on their hands and they make you a sandwich.”

Polio, like COVID, could have devastating long-term effects even if you survived the initial infection. President Franklin Roosevelt was among the thousands of people who lived with permanent paralysis from polio. Others spent weeks, years, or the rest of their lives in iron lungs.

Precautions were taken during the polio pandemic. Schools and public pools closed. Then, in 1955, a miracle: a vaccine.

A two-dose course of the polio vaccine proved to be about 90% effective — similar to the effectiveness of our current COVID vaccines. Vaccine technology was still relatively new, and the polio vaccine was not without side effects. A small number of people who got that vaccine got polio from it. Another subset of recipients developed Guillain-Barre syndrome, a noncontagious autoimmune disorder that can cause paralysis or nerve damage. A botched batch killed some of the people who received it.

But there were no masses of polio anti-vaxxers. It was a “whole sense of the greater good, that this was the only way out of this terrible scourge,” Cannon said. “You would have had to have been a psychopathic monster to not want to be part of the solution.”

Benjamin said the polio vaccine campaign became a moment of national unity: “Jonas Salk and the folks that solved the polio problem were national heroes.”

By 1979, polio was eradicated in the United States.

How it ended: Vaccination

Smallpox

How it started: The disease had been observed in the Eastern hemisphere dating to as early as 1157 BCE, and European colonizers first brought smallpox to North America’s previously unexposed Native population in the early 1500s. A 2019 study suggested smallpox and other viruses introduced by colonizers killed as much as 90% of the indigenous population in some areas. Globally, smallpox is estimated to have killed more than 300 million people just in the 20th century. The case fatality rate of variola major, which caused the majority of smallpox infections, is around 30%

Outbreaks continued in North America through the centuries after it arrived here, at one point infecting half the population of the city of Boston. We fought back by trying to infect people with a weakened version of it, long before vaccines existed. An enslaved man named Onesimus is believed to have introduced the concept of smallpox inoculation to North America in 1721 when he told slave owner Cotton Mather that he had undergone it in West Africa. Mather tried to convince Boston doctors to consider inoculating residents during that outbreak, to limited success. One doctor who inoculated 287 patients reported only 2% of them died of smallpox, compared to a 14.8% death rate among the general population.

In 1777, George Washington ordered troops who had not already had the disease to undergo a version of inoculation in which pus from a smallpox sore was introduced into an open cut. Most people who were inoculated developed a mild case of smallpox, then developed natural immunity. Some died, though at a far lower rate compared with other ways of contracting the disease. The practice of inoculation was controversial enough — some skeptics said it was not sufficiently tested, some argued it was doctors “playing God,” others theorized that it was a conspiracy from slaves to trick white slave owners into killing themselves — that it was banned in several colonies.

Edward Jenner first demonstrated the effectiveness of his newly created smallpox vaccine in England in 1796. Vaccination spread throughout the world, and deaths from smallpox became rarer over time: In a century, smallpox went from being responsible for 1 in 13 deaths in London to about 1 in 100.

But while early vaccines reduced smallpox’s power, it still existed: An outbreak hit New York City in 1947. It demonstrated that the vaccines were not 100% effective in everyone forever: 47-year-old Eugene Le Bar, the first fatality, had a smallpox vaccine scar. Israel Weinstein, the city’s health commissioner, held a news conference urging all New Yorkers to get vaccinated against smallpox, whether for the first time or what we would now call a “booster shot.”

The mayor and President Truman got vaccinated on camera. In less than one month, 6.35 million New Yorkers were vaccinated, in a city of 7.8 million. The final toll of the New York outbreak: 12 cases of smallpox, resulting in 2 deaths.

Our country’s final outbreak affected 8 people in the Rio Grande Valley in 1949.

In 1959, the World Health Organization announced a plan to eradicate smallpox globally with vaccinations. The disease was declared eradicated in 1980.

Of all the diseases our species has tackled, “the only one we’ve ever been really successful to totally eradicating is smallpox,” Benjamin said. The only remaining smallpox pathogens exist in laboratories.

How it ended: Vaccination

HIV/AIDS

How it started: In 1981, the CDC announced the first cases of what we would later call AIDS.

Roughly half of Americans who contracted HIV in the early 1980s died of an HIV/AIDS-related condition within two years. Deaths from HIV peaked in the 1990s, with roughly 50,000 in 1995, and have decreased steadily since then: As of 2019, roughly 1.2 million Americans are HIV-positive; there were 5,044 deaths attributed to HIV that year.

The Reagan administration did not take HIV seriously for years. Unlike COVID, which was quickly identified as a respiratory disease, HIV spread for years before scientists knew for sure how it was transmitted. Gay activists who encouraged their community to use condoms in the early 1980s were criticized as “sex-negative.”

Today, we know how to prevent the spread of HIV, and treatments for it have progressed to the point where early intervention can make the virus completely undetectable.

“If you’re HIV positive, the HIV pandemic never went away for you,” said Cannon, who’s spent much of her career studying the virus. She described it as a “great irony” that we identified the cause of COVID and developed a vaccine within a year, only to have people refuse it: “Anybody with HIV would tell you that the opposite is true for HIV, where despite decades now of research, we have not been able to come up with vaccines that work against this shapeshifter of a virus that is HIV, and people would be desperately pleased if there were vaccines.”

Around 700,000 people in the U.S. have died of HIV-related illnesses in the 40 years since the disease appeared. In less than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve surpassed 800,000 COVID deaths.

How it ended: Endemic

SARS

How it started: SARS first appeared in China in 2002 before making its way to the United States and 28 other countries.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome — quickly shortened to SARS in headlines and news coverage — is caused by a coronavirus named SARS-CoV, or SARS-associated coronavirus. COVID-19 is caused by a virus so similar that it’s called SARS-CoV-2.

Globally, more than 8,000 people contracted SARS during the outbreak, and 916 died. (By comparison, there were 10 times more cases of COVID-19 than that registered globally by the end of February 2020.)

One hundred fifteen cases of SARS were suspected in the United States; only 8 people had laboratory-confirmed cases of the disease, and none of them died.

Like COVID-19, fatality rates from SARS were very low for young people — less than 1% for people under 25 — up to a more than 50% rate for people over 65. Overall, the case fatality rate was 11%.

Public anxiety was widespread, including in areas unaffected by SARS.

SARS and COVID-19 have a lot in common. But the diseases — and the way the government responded to them — weren’t exactly the same, said Benjamin, who worked for the CDC during the SARS epidemic.

“There wasn’t asymptomatic spread. Early on we had a functional test. We had a public health system that was in much better shape than it is today. All those things went wrong this time,” he said. “And [COVID-19] turned out to be much more infectious, it turned out to have asymptomatic spread. … [In 2020] you had a public health system which wasn’t ready for prime time because it hadn’t been invested in.”

Conversely, he said, the response to SARS was robust and immediate. The WHO issued a global alert about an unknown and severe form of pneumonia in Asia on March 12, 2003. The CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center by March 14, and issued an alert for travelers entering the U.S. from Hong Kong and parts of China the next day. Pandemic planning and guidance went into effect by the end of that month.

“When [public health organizations] had the actual genetic sequence mapped out and then they made a test for it, they rapidly got that test out to state and local health departments, they began screening, doing surveillance, we contained it very quickly, we communicated effectively to the public, and it worked,” he said.

In the case of SARS, the disease stopped spreading before a vaccine or cure could be created. Scientists knew another coronavirus could emerge that was more contagious. They laid the groundwork for developing the COVID-19 vaccines we have now.

How it ended: Died out after being controlled by public health measures

Swine flu

How it started: Both the Spanish flu and swine flu were caused by the same type of virus: influenza A H1N1.

Ultimately, according to the CDC, there were about 60.8 million cases of swine flu in the U.S. from April 2009 to April 2010, with 274,304 hospitalizations and 12,469 deaths — a case fatality rate of about 0.02%. So there were millions more cases of swine flu than there were of COVID-19 in the same time period, but a fraction of the fatalities. Eighty percent of swine flu deaths were in people younger than 65.

It was first detected in California on April 15, 2009, and the CDC and the Obama administration declared public health emergencies before the end of that month. As with COVID-19, hospital visits spiked. Hundreds of schools closed down temporarily. In Texas, a children’s hospital set up tents in the parking lot to handle emergency room overflow; several hospitals in North Carolina banned children from visiting. Hospitals near Colorado Springs, Colo., reported a 30% increase in flu visits. Three-hundred-thousand doses of liquid Tamiflu for children were released from the national pandemic stockpile.

In the same month cases were first detected, the CDC started identifying the virus strain for a potential vaccine. The first flu shots with H1N1 protections went into arms in October 2009. WHO declared the swine flu pandemic over in August 2010. But like Spanish flu, swine flu never completely went away.

How it ended: Endemic

Ebola

How it started: From 2014 to 2016, 28,616 people in West Africa had Ebola, and 11,310 died — a 39.5% case fatality rate. Despite widespread fears about it spreading here — including close to 100 tweets from the man who would be president when the COVID-19 pandemic began — only two people contracted Ebola on U.S. soil, and neither died.

So how did we escape Ebola? Unlike COVID, Ebola isn’t transmitted in the air, and there’s no asymptomatic spread. It spreads through the bodily fluids of people actively experiencing symptoms, either directly or through bedding and other objects they’ve touched. If you haven’t been within three feet of a person with Ebola, you have almost no risk of getting it.

Part of the problem in Africa, Benjamin said, was that families traditionally washed the bodies of the deceased, exposing themselves to infected fluids. And healthcare workers who treated patients without proper protective equipment or awareness of heightened safety procedures were at risk. Once adequate equipment was delivered to affected areas and precautions were taken by healthcare workers and families of the victims, the disease could be controlled. People needed to temporarily change their behavior to respond to the public health crisis, and they did.

While this particular outbreak ended in 2016, it’s very possible we will see another Ebola event in the future. An Ebola vaccine was approved by the FDA in 2019.

How it ended: Subsided after being controlled by public health measures

How will COVID end?

Big picture, “pandemics end because the disease is unable to transmit itself through people or other vectors that allow the transmission of the disease,” Benjamin said.

The most likely outcome at this point is that COVID-19 is here to stay, he said: “I think most people now think that it will be endemic for a while.” On Twitter, his colleagues in epidemiology and public health seem to agree.

COVID has a lot going for it, as far as viruses go: Unlike Ebola and SARS, it can be spread by people who don’t realize they have it. Unlike smallpox, it can jump species, infecting animals and then potentially reinfecting us. Unlike polio, one person can unwittingly spread it to a room full of people, and not enough people are willing to get vaccinated at once to stop it in its tracks. It’s less contagious than swine flu, and less deadly than Ebola, landing it in a sort of perverse sweet spot where it infects a lot of people but doesn’t kill enough of them to run out of victims. For many people, it’s mild enough that it convinces others they don’t have to take the disease or precautions against it seriously. No one thought that about smallpox or Ebola.

In a conversation I had with Cannon for a different story in May 2020, she told me if someone were designing a virus with the maximum capacity to succeed, it would look a lot like this coronavirus.

“One of the really superpower things about this virus is its stealthiness,” she told me then. “So you can feel fine, you can go hang out with friends and not obey the six-foot rule and the next morning you feel like death and you’re like, ‘oh crap.'” Back then, she contrasted it with the way we shut down SARS: “The reason we could stop it is everybody who had SARS, you were only infectious while you were sick. You woke up one day feeling like death and that was the day you were infectious. Infected people couldn’t walk among us. … With this coronavirus, they walk amongst us.”

So what happens next? In some populations, enough people will get vaccinated to achieve something like herd immunity. In others, it will burn through the population until everyone’s had it, and either achieves naturally gained immunity (which confers less long-term protection than vaccination) or dies. People still die from influenza and HIV in the United States; a disease becoming endemic isn’t exactly a happy ending.

“We tolerate the tragedy a lot better when it’s a disease that we’ve seen before,” Benjamin said. “It is less scary to us.”

Based on where we are now, “I don’t think COVID-19 will ever go away,” Cannon said.

We’re still learning about the Omicron variant. Early reports out of South Africa suggest it may be a more contagious but milder version of the disease, though it’s too early to say for sure. In a perfect world, COVID would go away entirely; with that possibility almost certainly off the table, an attenuated strain that displaces the Delta variant and turns COVID into an illness that rarely requires hospitalization is perhaps the best we can hope for at this point.

How it ends: A combination of vaccine- and naturally-gained immunity, attenuation, availability of rapid testing, and improvements in treatment for active cases could turn it into what skeptics wrongly called it to begin with: a bad cold or flu.

Still, despite everything, there remains a large group of, mostly conservative, mostly evangelical Christians, who refuse to get the vaccines because of misinformation.  Either they have erroneous data they believe is valid, or they fail to understand the underlying science because . . . Jesus I guess.  That is, in these circles science is not respected because they believe otherwise based on their interpretation of the Bible.  Those folks need not worry about tomorrow, Jesus is coming back to take them away.  Neither Covid nor climate change is their concern, because they believe they won’t be here for the consequences. Thus, science denial denial is, sadly, too commonplace.

Now these same deniers, often sick or dying, have become a plague on the health care workers.

NEWSWEEK
Health care workers have faced constant uncertainty over the last 20 months—the ebb and flow of COVID waves, changing health guidance, newly-discovered variants—but few could have predicted there would come a time when people would turn against them for staying in the field.

“A year ago, they wanted to throw a ticker-tape parade for the heroes, and now they’re throwing garbage at us? We’re not the heroes anymore,” COVID intensive care unit nurse Mary Turner told Newsweek. “In some communities, we’re the ones who are ‘perpetuating the myth of COVID.'”

Turner, who is also the president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, has worked at North Memorial Hospital’s COVID ward since the beginning of the pandemic.

“I’ve heard stories of nurses here, in certain communities, getting garbage thrown at them in the grocery stores. I’ve heard nurses having to put up with the public saying to them, ‘You nurses have got to do better,'” she said. “At one hospital, we’ve had three suicides among the nurses.”

“I wish somehow we could just magically get rid of all the politics out of all this,” she added.

Since March 2020, 37 percent of Minnesota’s COVID ICU nurses have left their posts, either altogether or for other positions at the hospital where there are better hours or positions that offer more breaks. Turner said that nearly two years into the pandemic, the situation in hospitals is even more frustrating for nurses than it was when the virus initially swept the nation.  In an interview with Newsweek, she described a period when the ICU ward was finally being freed of COVID patients, but suddenly, with the emergence of the Delta variant, unvaccinated people became admitted to the hospitals once again.

“We thought we were done, and then the weekend that the Delta hit, we had bam, bam, bam,” Turner recalled. “We had three non-vaxxer, difficult families, all prone, all intubated and I’ll tell you what, we had a lot of resentment.”  “This was different than the first year where nobody had any hope, we didn’t know what medicines would work, we didn’t have a vaccine,” she said.

“We had to do a lot of talking outside the patients’ rooms, asking ‘What are we feeling? Are we feeling resentful?’ We needed to get those feelings out before we went into the patients’ rooms because it is not professional to take it out on the patient,” Turner added. “There’s been a lot of tough conversations.”

These days, almost all the patients Turner sees are unvaccinated and over the last few months, they’ve continued to file into the hospitals and overwhelm the health care systems.  Data from the Department of Human and Health Services shows that ICUs in Minnesota are at 85 percent capacity.  While the figures are down from the 98 percent reported earlier this month, Turner said the downward trend hasn’t made enough of a difference to alleviate the stress health care workers face.

“Here’s the sad thing, [patients] stay for a month and a half and they eventually die. This Delta was a vicious, vicious variant,” she said. “They come in so sick, they’re all prone or laying on their stomach and intubated and like I said, most of them eventually die.”

Turner said while some unvaccinated patients leave the ICUs promising to get their shots and encouraging those around them to do the same, others refuse to believe the vaccines could have saved their loved ones. In fact, they oftentimes take out those frustrations on the nurses.

“This other patient I’m taking care of, their family is just convinced that essential oils will cure mom,” Turner said. “She wanted to be given ivermectin, that horse parasite medicine, and she refused any other treatments. And you know, she will probably die. She will probably die.”

The influx of unvaccinated patients has not only taken a toll on the many nurses and doctors who are desperately trying to save their lives. They have also pushed out many vaccinated people who are waiting on elective surgeries.

When a COVID patient, typically unable to breathe, is admitted to the ICU, they take top priority and bump other surgeries that have been put off, including cardiac and respiratory procedures.

“This is so unnecessary,” Turner said. “We had one hospital where one weekend, they had three people die out in triage. You’ve got all these people sitting in your waiting rooms and they’re having heart attacks, strokes and God knows what else. Communities are going to have to start rationing care.”

Daily Beast
The Omicron variant is blazing around the world with such speed that even the leader of Israel, one of the most highly vaccinated countries, warned on Tuesday that it cannot be stopped.

“We can’t prevent it,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said, in blunt comments that reflected a growing consensus in nations where Omicron is circulating: The virus is moving too fast to catch.

That daunting notion — backed by data from nations where Omicron is spreading rapidly only a month after it was first detected — is tempered by early evidence that the variant causes milder symptoms, with vaccinations and boosters helping prevent serious illness and death.

Experts worldwide have expressed concern that the sheer number of people likely infected could create a flood of patients, overwhelming already stressed health care systems. But that concern is running up against those who argue that it is time to accept that the virus is endemic, and that countries should move away from lockdowns and toward more relaxed rules, including shorter quarantines.

John Bell, a professor of medicine at Oxford University and an adviser to the British government, said that Omicron was “not the same disease we were seeing a year ago.”

“The horrific scenes that we saw a year ago of intensive care units being full, lots of people dying prematurely, that is now history, in my view, and I think we should be reassured that that’s likely to continue,” he told the BBC on Tuesday.

Britain appears to be a few weeks ahead of most other nations in confronting the first wave of Omicron infection and, for the moment, has decided that the evidence does not warrant new restrictions.

While the latest figures in Britain are incomplete because of the Christmas holiday, data published on Monday indicated that more than 300,000 new Covid cases had been recorded between Saturday and Monday.

But Chris Hopson, the head of N.H.S. Providers, the membership organization for England’s health staff, said that while hospitalizations across Britain had risen, it was not a precipitous jump.

“What’s very interesting is how many are talking about number of asymptomatic patients being admitted to hospital for other reasons and then testing positive for Covid,” he said of conversations with heads of hospitals, in a series of posts on Twitter.

“Some are describing this as ‘incidental Covid.’”

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, said the approach to the current rise is a complicated one.

“If health services are likely to come under such pressure that they could collapse then implementing control measures now would be the right thing to do,” he wrote in a post on Twitter. “But tighter control measures carry a real risk, and not just to mental health, the economy, etc.” Forcing a change in behavior would not prevent infections, just delay them, he said. So further restrictions now would reduce the peak of a surge in cases and could ease short-term pressure on health services, but also extend the wave, he added.

A lot of data is showing that Omicron may be less lethal than Delta, which is good.  This is offset by it’s raw infectiousness.  Infection rates have doubled globally in a single week, and every one of the extra 4.5 million infections this week is another chance for the bug to mutate further.

Business insider
A chart shows vaccine protection against Omicron after one, two, or three shots. Protection is high against severe disease, and is boosted by a third shot, per official UK stats. Protection against getting mildly ill is much lower, although a booster raises it. A new chart shows how much protection is conferred by one, two, and three doses of vaccine against the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Business insider
“Two recent studies examine why the Omicron coronavirus variant might be less severe than other versions of COVID-19, and the author of one of the studies described the variant by saying it “is actually doing its own thing in many ways.”  Ravindra Gupta, a leading variant researcher from Cambridge University and an author on the first study, told Business Insider the studies suggest Omicron might be more mild than other variants because it attacks human lung cells in a different way.

“The biology of the virus is not the same as it was before. It’s almost a new thing,” Gupta told the website in a story published on Friday.  Gupta was part of a group of 31 scientists from different universities that collaborated on a study of Omicron. He said the new evidence they found supports the idea from other studies and data that suggests Omicron is less dangerous and less likely to cause deaths than the Delta variant.

It was published on Friday by the UK’s Health Security Agency, drawing on data collected during the country’s Omicron surge in late December.  It found that, while vaccines protect much less against catching COVID-19 with Omicron than with Delta, protection against hospitalization remains high.

(Bloomberg) — In Boston, coronavirus levels measured in wastewater are spiking to more than quadruple last winter’s surge. In Miami, more than a quarter of people are testing positive for Covid. And a San Francisco medical leader estimates that, based on his hospital’s tests, one of every 12 people in the city with no Covid symptoms actually has the virus.”

desert news
A strange omicron variant symptom has emerged as COVID-19 has continued to spread across the country.  Dr. John Torres, NBC News senior medical correspondent, told the “Today” show that one of the most common COVID-19 symptoms — loss of taste and smell — has not been common among omicron variant patients. However, “people are reporting night sweats, which is a very strange symptom that they say they’re having,” Torres told the “Today” show.

Night sweats have become one of the common omicron variant symptoms, along with muscle aches, fatigue and scratchy throats, as I wrote for the Deseret News. Torres said you should assume you have COVID-19 if you start to feel sick, regardless of the symptoms you’re feeling.

“So if you start getting sick, essentially you have to assume it’s COVID unless proven otherwise,” he said. “And by that, I mean make sure you isolate yourself (and) get a test to make sure it’s not COVID. You notice there’s a lot of overlap in those symptoms, and that’s why it can be so hard to tell the difference between all of them,” Torres said. “But there are a few differences.”

Dr. Amir Khan, a physician with the U.K.’s National Health Service, told the U.K. newspaper The Sun that night sweats had become a COVID-19 symptom for the omicron variant, too. Khan said the night sweats “those kind of drenching night sweats where you might have to get up and change your clothes.”

CNN
The US kicked off 2022 amid a massive Covid-19 case spike — driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant — that some experts warn will be different than any other time in the pandemic.

“What we have to understand is that our health system is at a very different place than we were in previous surges,” professor of emergency medicine Dr. Esther Choo told CNN on Saturday. “We have extremely high numbers of just lost health care workers, we’ve lost at least 20% of our health care workforce, probably more.”

“This strain is so infectious,” Choo added, “that I think all of us know many, many colleagues who are currently infected or have symptoms and are under quarantine.”

The high number of health care staff out with the virus will also have an impact on Americans’ doctors appointments and could make for dangerous circumstances when people are hospitalized with Covid-19, Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of Baylor University’s National School of Tropical Medicine, said Friday.

“That’s a different type of one-two punch: people going into the hospitals … and all of the health care workers are out of the workforce,” he told CNN.

But the latest variant isn’t just shrinking health care staff numbers. As the virus spreads like wildfire across American communities, staffing problems are already altering parts of daily life.  Plagued with staffing issues, New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced last week several subway lines were suspended.

In Ohio, the mayor of Cincinnati declared a state of emergency due to staffing shortages in the city’s fire department following a rise in Covid-19 infections, saying in the declaration that if the problem goes unaddressed, it would “substantially undermine” first responders’ readiness levels.  And in the middle of a busy holiday season, thousands of flights have been canceled or delayed as staff and crew call out sick.

“We’re seeing a surge in patients again, unprecedented in this pandemic,” Dr. James Phillips, chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University Hospital, warned on Saturday. “What’s coming for the rest of the country could be very serious and they need to be prepared.”

CNN
Health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic say that unvaccinated Americans continue to drive Covid-19 hospitalizations in the latest surge, much like the summer surge, when the Delta variant was ravaging parts of the country.  Despite a year of calls from public health experts to get vaccinated — and now boosted.
only about 62% of the US population is fully vaccinated, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And about 33.4% of those who are fully vaccinated have received their booster doses, the data shows.

“If you’re unvaccinated, that’s the group still at highest risk,” Dr. William Schaffner, a professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told CNN Saturday. “The adults that are being admitted to my institution, the vast majority continue to be unvaccinated.”

NBC
Humans have infected wild deer with Covid-19 in a handful of U.S. states and there’s evidence the virus has been spreading between deer, according to recent studies, which outline findings that could complicate the path out of the pandemic. Scientists swabbed the nostrils of white-tailed deer in Ohio and found evidence of at least six separate times that humans spread the coronavirus to deer, according to a study published last week in Nature.  About one-third of the deer sampled had an active or recent infection, the study says. Similar research in Iowa of tissue from roadkill and hunted deer found widespread evidence of the virus.

The research suggests the coronavirus could be taking hold in a free-ranging species that numbers about 30 million in the United States. No cases of Covid spread from deer to human have been reported, but it’s possible, scientists say. It’s a reminder that human health is intertwined with that of animals and inattention to other species could prolong the pandemic and complicate the quest to control Covid.

Daily Beast
An Italian anti-vaxxer and COVID-denier who sparked outrage after declaring himself a “plague spreader” and boasting about how he walked around sick and maskless in a supermarket is now dead of COVID-19, according to local media reports.  Maurizio Buratti, also known as Mauro from Mantua, died in a Verona hospital Monday, just a few weeks after he was hospitalized. He was 61.

As far as my own Covid plight goes, we are still testing and waiting and Quarantined, three more days for us, but the reality is Omicron is just getting here, and the worst is ahead of us in the next month or so. As always, we will see how deadly the new strain is by counting the corpses.

I see reflected in the rhetoric of the unvaccinated and the unwilling to be vaccinated, the base denialism I was warned of back in NBC school.  I never imagined it could persist in the face of reality, but here we are.  Media, the internet and social media especially, have created a space where reality can and is questioned all the time.  It is all well and good to question reality in philosophy.  It is not good to question the reality of the train barreling down the tracks at you.

The problem with C-19 is folks still cannot see the train, just like with climate change. The other day my son played a track for me from a niche rap artist.  If you think all rap is Gansta your sadly mistaken, all sorts of niche artists exist, using rap as a medium of communication and expression.  The artist, Baba Brinkman, hits the issue with climate on the head in his rap as in my own understanding, Covid is just another part of climate change.  Another domino in the interconnected web of life which we have broken, not able to fathom we are ending ourselves.  Ending humanity itself. The song is IPCC, by Baba Brinkman, here is a sample.

“You want a new definition of “hard core”?
Check out the intergovernmental climate report

It says the world is getting warmer, unequivocally
And the oceans have increased 30% in acidity

And 90% of the warming trend is oceanic
And concentrated in the arctic – nobody panic

But the level of greenhouse gasses in the air
Is higher now than it’s been in millions of years

We added more than a trillion tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere
It’s gonna be centuries before some of the gasses clear

I’m dropping science, unvarnished, unbiased
But I don’t blame you if your instinct is to deny it

‘Cause we evolved to prioritize immediate threats
If it bleeds it leads, that’s what the media says

So let the gangster-esque rap music paint a picture
And I’ll hit you with some evidence-based predictions”

“Get ready for…
Wars, famines, droughts, floods
Hurricanes, heat waves, murders, thugs
Chaos, refugees, stress, disease
Extinction, disaster, I-P-C-C”

NOAA
During the first nine months of 2021, there have been 18 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disaster events across the United States. The disaster costs for the first nine months of 2021 are $104.8 billion, already surpassing the disaster costs for all of 2020 ($100.2 billion, inflation-adjusted to 2021 dollars). The total costs for the last five years ($691.7 billion) is nearly one-third of the disaster cost total of the last 42-years (1980-2021), which is $2.085 trillion (inflation-adjusted to 2021 dollars). This reflects a 5-year cost average of nearly $140.0 billion/year — a new record

2021 is off to a record pace for number of events during the first nine months of any year. 2021 also follows the year 2020 that set the new annual record of 22 events – shattering the previous annual record of 16 events that occurred in 2011 and 2017. 2021 is the seventh consecutive year (2015-2021) in which 10 or more billion-dollar weather and climate disaster events have impacted the United States. Over the last 42 years (1980-2021), the years with 10 or more separate billion-dollar disaster events include 1998, 2008, 2011-2013, and 2015-2021.

The number and cost of disasters are increasing over time due to a combination of increased exposure (i.e., values at risk of possible loss), vulnerability (i.e., how much damage does the intensity (wind speed, flood depth) at a location cause) and that climate change is increasing the frequency of some types of extremes that lead to billion-dollar disasters.

As I worked on this in my hilltop abode another 43,589 of my fellow humans lost their battle with Covid, of those 9,286 were my fellow Americans, and of those 56 were my fellow Mainers.

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