The coronavirus pandemic is tearing up the country with the Omicron variant shattering infection records and rates and this viral strain and the Delta variant overwhelming hospitals and threatening to break the already exhausted U.S. health care system.
Uncertainty has returned to conversations about the pandemic’s course, as educators decide whether to return students at least temporarily to online learning, travel has been disrupted, and businesses make tough health safety decisions.
Patients and experts alike are pondering basic questions in dealing with the disease and its risks. These include whether deaths, a lagging indicator, will spike with Omicron as they did with the Delta surge, and are current responses — such as cloth or “surgical” face coverings, isolation, quarantine, and rapid testing — as effective with highly contagious Omicron?
Nation’s capital and surrounding areas struggle
The pandemic’s challenges are hitting especially hard in the nation’s capital (see chart above, courtesy the New York Times) and surrounding areas, suddenly now slammed by the coronavirus in startling fashion.
Hospitals in the area say they are overwhelmed. Although the Biden Administration has promised relief, testing is tough to get done in swift, convenient fashion with long lines in the District and across the country. Colleges and universities in the DMV — the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia — are telling students that in-person classes will be halted for awhile after the holiday break in favor of a return to online education.
Parents and kids may be feeling anxious as public elementary and secondary schools in the area and across the country plan for youngsters’ imminent, post-vacation return to in-person classes — even as doctors and hospitals nationwide report sharp increases in coronavirus infections in children serious enough to require hospitalization.
The winter coronavirus surge, experts say, has been driven in parts of the country by younger people. They may believe themselves less likely to get infected or to suffer the severe effects of the disease, including hospitalization and death. This notion is lessening in accuracy as infections soar.
Recognizing the powerful protection accorded by vaccination and the need to shore up shots’ waning safeguards over time, federal regulators have started to approve boosters for patients aged 12 to 15.
Federal officials reported that 206 million Americans were fully vaccinated as of Dec. 30, with 69 million people having received a booster.
That means 62% of all eligible people having been vaccinated — a disconcerting number considering the proven protection that shots provide against the coronavirus and both of its major strains, Delta and Omicron.
Medical experts garner more clues about Omicron
Research is building that Omicron may cause, relatively speaking, a less severe coronavirus infection, including for youngsters. It may do its big damage, peak, and recede faster than Delta. It may not only be pushing aside the demonstrably virulent and lethal Delta, Omicron’s contagiousness, combined with aggressive vaccination (including boosters) may hasten a turn for the disease to endemic status, akin to what people experience with influenza (which still is a dangerous and deadly infectious illness).
But these optimistic scenarios carry a huge caveat — they are significantly more meaningful for the vaccinated versus those who have not gotten their shots or who are relying on the more hit-and-miss protection offered by suffering a coronavirus infection.
It is true that more people who have gotten their coronavirus shots and boosters are getting Omicron infections (shown either by experience or confirmed by testing). Their cases typically have not led them to require hospitalization and, so far, Omicron’s death toll appears far lower than Delta’s.
The patients who are getting so sick they require hospitalization and those who are dying of coronavirus are, in overpowering fashion, the unvaccinated (see chart above, courtesy the New York Times). The coronavirus has become a preventable, more treatable infection and it is hard to fathom why anyone would risk its major, known consequences — including “long Covid,” with sustained debilitation — and disregard modern medicine.
We are not done with the coronavirus and the huge trauma it has inflicted on us all. The disease has infected 55 million of us, with almost 380,000 new cases occurring on a daily average! More than 85,000 patients on average are hospitalized daily, which is a 25% increase over similar figures two weeks ago.
Let’s also not forget that the pandemic has killed an estimated 825,000 Americans, with the average daily fatalities 13 times higher for the unvaccinated versus among those who have had coronavirus shots.
Please get tested, if appropriate (and if you can be patient enough to find tests), AND get vaccinated, AND get those booster shots. Officials are trying to make it as easy and convenient, as possible — and it’s free. If you’re uncertain about getting a booster or optimizing your mixing and matching of coronavirus shots, talk to your doctor, pronto. And, while you’re at it, ask about and get your annual flu shot.
We cannot ignore disease and death and embrace nihilism and fatalism. We cannot allow anti-science fanatics to destroy centuries of progress with the viral spread of ever-wilder fantasies and conspiracies. Our health system, the envy of the world, cannot be a toy that will be smashed and ruined by selfish belligerence.