My wife just invited her sister over for Christmas Day. Without bothering to ask if I thought that was advisable. Said sister-in-law having possibly been recently exposed to COVID at work. My son is going out to the local bar to hang out with his buddies. Ditto. I’m still going grocery shopping in person, where maskless customers remain an increasingly common sight.
Meanwhile, the U.S. trend for new Omicron cases where I live (Washington DC suburbs) remains more-or-less vertical. As it is in several other locations around the nation.
I think I can connect the dots.
At six days into the Omicron wave, we ought to be close to our darkest hour, based on what we’ve seen in other countries. And that’s working out for me.
Personally and as a nation, we’d better hope that Omicron really is vastly less severe than Delta, as I have painted it. Because if not, we’re in deep doo-doo. New cases continue go grow rapidly. And nobody seems overly worried about it. Except maybe hospital workers.
In terms of the data, six days following the initial upturn from Omicron, there is no letup in the U.S. upward trend in new cases. We’ve now seen a 50% increase in cases in a week. Which is just about on a par with Britain’s Omicron wave.
After today, it’s doubtful we’ll get usable information on the true trend again until after the holidays.
Anyway, so far so good? It still does appear that cases are skyrocketing but hospitalizations are not. Here’s Washington DC — worst in the nation for new cases — as of 12/22/2021, the most recent data available:
Source: Calculated from DC COVID dashboard data, accessed 12/24/2021
Edit: The Brits have finally chimed in. News reporting says Great Britain’s official estimate is that Omicron infection is “50% to 70% less likely” to result in hospitalization, compared to Delta. Details are not forthcoming, but I have to assume that’s their best estimate of an apples-to-apples (same age, same vaccination status) comparison. The British study seems to have been based on a tiny number of cases. A similar study from Scotland yielded roughly the same finding: A two-thirds reduction in risk of hospitalization with Omicron compared to Delta. This compares to the South African estimate of 80% less likely, which is also roughly the estimate I get most frequently when I’ve calculated hospitalization rates for the first few days of Omicron in several countries.
Depending on which estimate you take, you’ll want to discount Omicron cases relative to Delta cases, as you look at the statistics. Five-to-one, three-to-one, take your pick at this point. But virtually everyone is now agreed that the average Omicron case is vastly less severe than the average Delta case.
Don’t lose sight of the fact that your risk of contracting a serious illness depends both on the incidence of new cases in your area, and the average severity per case. Omicron may well make up in sheer numbers what it lacks in severity.
U.S. trend to 12/23/2021
Data source for this and other graphs of new case counts: Calculated from The New York Times. (2021). Coronavirus (Covid-19) Data in the United States. Retrieved 12/24/2021, from https://github.com/nytimes/covid-19-data.” The NY Times U.S. tracking page may be found at https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html.
Cases are now up by about 50%, in about a week. That’s a good match for the British Omicron wave at this point. So that’s good news.
The bad news is that the British wave hasn’t peaked yet. What looked like a possible plateau a few days back was just a pause. The extreme rate of growth slowed after a week, but did not stop.
(For those of you keeping score, of the countries with early Omicron waves that I have tracked, the score now stands at 2 to 2. Two countries (South Africa, Norway) have had short waves with a well-defined peak. Two countries (Great Britain, Denmark) have not yet seen a defined peak.)
Here’s where we stand, relative to COVID-19 cases at this time last year. We’re already at the point where the lines are crossing, so it’s pretty much a given that we’re going to break the record for daily new cases set in last year’s winter wave.
The only remaining question is average severity of illness. If, by chance, it really does turn out that the version of COVID-19 that spreads like wildfire just happens to be the same version that kills 90% less often, you really have to start thinking about how damned lucky we are.
What’s the phrase? God protects infants and fools. Not a bad summary of the Omicron wave.