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Two Studies Show a Big Decline in Risk of Hospitalization With Omicron

Studies in Scotland and South Africa show serious infections from Omicron are far less than the previous Delta version of Covid.
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Number of Covid-19 hospitalizations

Hospitalization Risk Declines Significantly

The WSJ reports Two Studies Show Big Fall in Risk of Hospitalization With Omicron

“This is a qualified good news story,” said Jim McMenamin, incident director for Covid-19 at Public Health Scotland, and one of the authors of the Scottish study, at a briefing. “It’s important we don’t get ahead of ourselves. A smaller proportion of a much greater number of cases can still mean a substantial number of people that might experience severe Covid infections that could lead to hospitalization.”

The University of Edinburgh study, drawing on the health records of 5.4 million people in Scotland, found the risk of hospitalization with Covid-19 was two-thirds lower with Omicron than with Delta. The new variant became dominant in Scotland last week.

A separate study published online by researchers at South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases similarly found people infected with Omicron were 70% to 80% less likely to need hospital treatment than people infected with earlier variants, including Delta.

“In South Africa, this is the epidemiology. Omicron is behaving in a way that is less severe,” Professor Cheryl Cohen, who heads the institute’s center for respiratory diseases and meningitis, told reporters on a conference call.

These new studies, which haven’t yet been peer-reviewed, shed light on the severity of illness Omicron causes. They offer new evidence that Omicron infections tend to be milder in populations with high levels of immunity, whether from vaccination or prior infection. In Scotland, 83.6% of people aged 12 and over have received two doses of vaccine, and 56.6% have received a third shot.

“We don’t have as many admissions to hospital as we were expecting, had Omicron been exactly the same as the Delta infection,” said Chris Robertson, professor of public health epidemiology at the University of Strathclyde, who contributed to the Scottish study.

Similarly, Bloomberg reports Omicron Hospitalization Risk Is Far Below Delta’s in Two Studies

Excellent News

Some of the hospitalization rate decline could be a statistical mirage. 

Two questions explain.

  1. Is the severity less because of increased vaccination rates? 
  2. Is the severity less because of acquired immunity?

Point number two is the key idea. 

While we know the risk of hospitalization goes down with vaccinations, we do not have a good handle on the percentage of unvaccinated people who have previously been infected with Covid

Regardless, good news is good news.

Omicron Becomes Dominant U.S. Strain With 73% of Covid Cases

On December 20, Bloomberg reported Omicron Becomes Dominant U.S. Strain With 73% of Covid Cases.

The omicron variant accounted for 73% of all sequenced Covid-19 cases in the U.S., surging from around 3% last week, according to the latest federal estimates.

The highly mutated coronavirus strain has been detected across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a model that it updates weekly. The delta variant, which had been the dominant form of the virus in the U.S. last week, has now receded to roughly 27% of sequenced cases.

That's also good to excellent news given the severity of Omicron is much less than previous versions of Covid, for whatever reason. 

Omicron at Least Doubles Risk of Getting Infected on a Plane

If you insist on some bad Covid news here you go:

Please note Omicron at Least Doubles Risk of Getting Infected on a Plane

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Aircraft passengers are twice or even three times more likely to catch Covid-19 during a flight since the emergence of the omicron variant, according to the top medical adviser to the world’s airlines. 

Conflicting Analysis

If you insist on still more bad news (or possibly just bad reporting or outlier studies), Reuters reports Omicron infections appear no less severe than Delta; COVID-19 lowers sperm count, motility

Researchers at Imperial College London compared 11,329 people with confirmed or likely Omicron infections with nearly 200,000 people infected with other variants. So far, according to a report issued ahead of peer review and updated on Monday, they see "no evidence of Omicron having lower severity than Delta, judged by either the proportion of people testing positive who report symptoms, or by the proportion of cases seeking hospital care after infection."

Biden Gives Companies a One-Month Extension to Adhere to His Vaccine Mandate

You can always find bad news on anything you want. But I think the WSJ article and the study-related Bloomberg story have the picture correct. 

What About Herd Immunity?

The percentage of people vaccinated plus the percentage of non-vaccinated who have caught Covid plus may easily approach or exceed the percentage required to slow or stop rapid Covid transmission. 

If so, Biden's constitutionally-dubious vaccination mandates might be more than a bit of overkill at this point. 

For discussion, please see Biden Gives Companies a One-Month Extension to Adhere to His Vaccine Mandate

Biden extended his original deadline of Jan. 4 to February 9 requiring vaccinations or tests for employers with 100 or more workers, covering about 84 million people.

By February 9, the surge in Omicron will likely have peaked and descending rapidly.

Given the normal virus progression to less lethal forms over times, the latest mandates are likely more than a bit of overkill. 

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