The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is among us and spreading rapidly. Is it time to panic? Is it time to run home and hibernate, donning a face mask and rubber gloves any time one interacts with family? From many of the media reports and from the doom and gloom forecast of President Joe Biden, one would think so. Yet statistics and science tell a different story.
On October 30 of 2020, as the U.S. Presidential election roared toward its conclusion, then-candidate Joe Biden issued the following statement via Twitter. “I’m not going to shut down the country. I’m not going to shut down the economy. I’m going to shut down the virus.”
He hasn’t shut down the virus. Mr. Biden now officially has more COVID-19 related deaths on his watch than President Trump did. Worse yet, the optimistic Mr. Biden of 2020 has apparently experienced a major change of heart. A few days ago now-President Biden predicted the coming months will be a winter of “severe illness and death.”
Much of the American media has put a damper on the public’s holiday cheer with a similar message. Positive COVID-19 tests are way up. We are told we are looking at another “surge.” Several colleges and universities such as Harvard University and Stanford University are planning on going back to remote learning for the spring semester. The NHL has paused its season after an outbreak among players and management. Broadway shows are shuttering again, the Rockettes won’t be performing their legendary Christmas show for the rest of the year and numerous Washington DC restaurants and businesses are closing their doors again, at least until January.
Mr. Biden’s October 2020 statement notwithstanding, it sure sounds like parts of the economy are shutting down and that COVID-19 isn’t, but is that really even the story?
It is indisputable that there is an increase in the number of positive COVID-19 tests. More than 650,000 cases were reported in the week ending December 18. Almost three-quarters of those new cases are the Omicron variant. We’ve been told the new variant spreads faster, easier and is likely to flood our hospitals with critically ill patients.
In response to that warning, Mr. Biden tweeted this past weekend, “We know that vaccines are working. If you are boosted with Pfizer or Moderna, you have a high degree of protection against severe illness with omicron. If you’re an adult choosing to be unvaccinated, you will face an extremely difficult winter for your family and community.”
His statement was clearly intended to ease worry and tension among the vaccinated and scare those not vaccinated into compliance. The problem is that on Monday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the following contradictory official statement: “CDC has been collaborating with global public health and industry partners to learn about Omicron, as we continue to monitor its course. We don’t yet know how easily it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, or how well available vaccines and medications work against it.”
That last line is important. “We don’t yet know… how well available vaccines and medications work against it.”
Less than 24 hours later Mr. Biden tweeted his version again. “If you haven’t yet, please get vaccinated. It’s the best way to keep yourself and your loved ones safe from the Omicron variant. Now is the time.” Apparently, Mr. Biden either knows something the CDC doesn’t or is just blowing smoke.
When we look at statistics from the first full week of Omicron infections in the United States, nearly 80% of the patients had had a full series of a COVID-19 vaccine. About a third had received a booster dose. The statistical bottom line? The first CDC report on the Omicron variant in the US shows vaccination does not protect people against contracting the infection.
Since that first week, the number of cases has jumped into the hundreds of thousands. In fact, 73.2% or about 475,000 Omicron cases popped up last week alone. That is a scary number unless you look at the actual impact. How many people have died in America from the Omicron variant? One. A man in his 50s with underlying health conditions has been the only reported Omicron death. That’s clearly a tragedy for his family, but statistically speaking, one person out of a half-million infections is hardly worth closing down businesses, schools and the holidays. In fact, the CDC Covid Response Team reported “The most commonly reported symptoms were cough, fatigue, and congestion or runny nose.”
That might explain why physician and television analyst Dr. Mark Siegel refers to this as the OmiFlu.
The Statens Serum Institute in Denmark issued results of an early study they have done on Omicron and according to their report of the people who tested positive between November 22 and December 15, Omicron cases were three times less likely to be admitted to hospital than cases with other variants.
A similar result was found by South Africa’s National Institute For Communicable Diseases. That study found that among people who tested positive during October and November, suspected Omicron cases were 80% less likely than Delta cases to be admitted to the hospital.
If those studies and the ratio of infections to deaths in the United States both hold steady, Omicron may actually be a bit of good news. An overwhelming number of new COVID-19 cases in America are Omicron. Omicron sends nearly no one to the hospital and as of this writing, has yet to kill anyone that doesn’t have a preexisting condition. If Omicron is the “wave” we face in the coming months, perhaps America and the world will be spared the flood of “severe illness and death” foretold by Mr. Biden.
Perhaps the Omiflu will simply sweep the nation with sniffles and fatigue and spare us further harm. Good news indeed.
- Tim Constantine is a columnist with the Washington Times.