What Does the Omicron Variant’s Arrival Mean for the Pandemic in 2022?

December 19, 2021 Topic: Omicron Region: Americas Blog Brand: Coronavirus Tags: OmicronCoronavirusPandemicEconomyVaccination

What Does the Omicron Variant’s Arrival Mean for the Pandemic in 2022?

President Joe Biden announced the White House’s coronavirus winter plan on December 2, just days after Omicron was first reported in South Africa.

The Omicron variant’s spread in the United States has certainly put a damper on any optimism people had about the future. 

CNN reported Friday, citing Johns Hopkins University data, that the United States has been averaging 118,717cases  per day, which is 40 percent more than last month. At the same time, in New York City, the positivity rate in PCR tests doubled over a three-day period between December 9 and 12. 

Additionally, hospitalizations and deaths have risen significantly. 

“The cases are going up,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN. “We have an average of about 117,000 cases. We have an increase in the percentage of hospitalizations. Deaths are still over a thousand. Then you have, looking over your shoulder, the Omicron variant, which we know, from what's going on in South Africa and in the UK, is a highly transmissible virus.” 

And while Fauci added that Omicron will eventually become the dominant strain in the United States, the Delta variant is still circulating and infecting people. And he reiterated once again that it’s recommended for Americans to receive booster shots to protect themselves. 

The Omicron variant has caused scientists and other experts to “rewrite” their expectations of what will happen in 2022, with hopes of the pandemic moving to endemic status in the near future fading quickly, according to Reuters. 

Some countries have begun to reinstate restrictions, although populations have shown that they are resistant to them. More than 270 million people have been infected with the virus, while about 57 percent of the world’s population has received at least one dose of vaccines, according to the World Health Organization. 

People are sick of the pandemic and God knows I am, but unless we can get some urgency to compel our leaders to take action,” Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan, told Reuters. “I really see 2022 being a lot of more of the same that we saw in 2021.” 

Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told Reuters that going forward, there will likely be different states of the pandemic in different regions and different times. 

Recent analysis by David Wallace-Wells, which was published in New York magazine, states that when it comes to Omicron “the models right now are flashing bright red” and that the pandemic is taking a “bad turn.”   

Wallace-Wells wrote that the wave is still in its early stages. And while only one person was confirmed dead from the new variant, a person in the UK, Omicron could “overwhelm” the United States before long.   

The UK’s health ministry estimated earlier this week that the country had about two hundred thousand cases of Omicron, a new high in that country. It’s one of more than seventy countries where the new variant has been spotted so far.   

Wallace-Wells noted that the reportedly less deadly variant might not be all that helpful, because “a strain that is one-third as deadly and three times as catching lands you pretty quickly in the same spot, death-wise.” 

Time magazine struck a slightly more positive tone, comparing the best-case to a scenario in which everyone in the entire world got a cold at the same time. There would be less across-the-world death, but there would be a great deal of economic disruption. 

President Joe Biden announced the White House’s COVID winter plan on December 2, just days after Omicron was first reported in South Africa. He described at the time as “New Actions to Protect Americans Against the Delta and Omicron Variants as We Battle COVID-19 this Winter.” 

The plans included further vaccination, including boosters, and vaccination for children, making more at-home testing kits available, increasing workplace protections, and the greater supply of treatment pills.   

Additionally, Biden that the plans do not include new lockdowns, nor closures of schools, or any of the other measures taken in the early days of the pandemic, per CNBC. 

“It doesn’t include shutdowns or lockdowns, but widespread vaccinations and boosters and testing a lot more,” Biden told reporters at the start of December. Also not included were new vaccine mandates, after the courts have questioned the legality of the president’s earlier measure. 

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for the National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver. 

Image: Reuters