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Nevilledog

(51,840 posts)
Fri Jan 7, 2022, 05:21 PM Jan 2022

America's Omicron Wave Now Looks More Severe Than Europe's [View all]







https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/01/americas-omicron-wave-now-looks-more-severe-than-europes.html

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https://archive.fo/jJkbQ




From abroad, where COVID-conscious Americans now look for portents of our near-term Omicron future, nearly all the signs have been positive over the last few weeks. In fact, case numbers aside, the U.K. and continental surges and new research from labs in Japan and Liverpool and Cambridge and Hong Kong (among other places) have made Omicron look almost like a best-case scenario, or at least what would’ve qualified as one just a few weeks ago, once we knew how quickly the wave was spreading but not yet how quickly the wave would subside or how much severe disease would be left in its wake.

In all of these places, initial case growth was dizzying — if earlier surges were defined by exponential growth, with Omicron it seemed practically stratospheric. But the waves turned quickly — in South Africa, cases peaked just four weeks after the wave began, and in London, the wave has turned, now, too. In South Africa, the picture of severity was even more encouraging, since COVID fatalities there reached only a fraction of the level reached at the height of the country’s previous wave (in some charts you couldn’t even see a rise in excess mortality). In the U.K., where hospitalizations are still growing, especially among the elderly, the death toll is likely to be more significant, though still well below the levels reached by the country last winter. This reduced severity is no mystery — study after study is now demonstrating that Omicron is much less effective in the lungs, where it can do the most damage, than previous variants. And several small-scale studies have suggested that — despite early concerns that Omicron’s capacity for reinfection and breakthroughs meant it might not produce much “cross-protection” against other variants — infection with the new variant probably does offer enough cross-protection that a true “parallel pandemic” is an unlikely outcome.

But while this is all encouraging, it is not clear that those same patterns observed abroad will hold here in the U.S. In fact, there are already early signs in hospitalization and ICU. data that the experience of Omicron in America may be harsher than has been observed so far in Europe. This should perhaps not come as a surprise, given that Delta was much more lethal in the U.S. than in Europe — and the current data may still reflect some lingering cases of that variant. And it does not mean a tsunami of deaths is right around the corner, or that this new variant will mean for the U.S. what Delta meant for India. (To begin with, the U.S. is, by global standards, very well vaccinated.) But the higher rate of severity observed so far is a reminder that the shape of a pandemic is not simply a matter of the biological properties of the virus; it is also determined by the social and immunological context in which that virus spreads. And it appears that, with Omicron as with Delta, the American context may be different enough to make a real difference, delivering perhaps considerably more severe illness and death than we’ve seen on the other side of the Atlantic.

With Delta, many Americans observed a miraculously light British wave and effectively ignored the real carnage that followed here — 100,000 Americans dead, and September and October were the deadliest two-month phase of the pandemic outside of last winter’s horrific surge. With Omicron, the same pattern — optimism from Europe followed by overlooked suffering here — seems troublingly possible again. And if you’re hoping for an outcome resembling South Africa’s, where COVID deaths during the Omicron wave didn’t reach even 10 percent of the previous peak, keep in mind that the U.S. began this wave on a Delta plateau 50 percent as high as our previous peak of daily deaths.

*snip*


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