That reprieve may be temporary, however, as the next variant, Omicron 2, has already been identified. Little is known about how the mutation will impact individuals, but early research shows the virus won’t behave much differently, Jaben said. “We have 10 times more cases of Omicron than Delta, and in the September surge, the hospitals were full and the ICUs were full, with hospitals on diversion.” Jaben said. “Can you imagine what would have happened if Omicron had been more serious? In a way, Omicron has thrown us a bone.” In Europe where cases surged with the identification of Omicron and then quickly dipped, cases have begun to spike again, Jaben said, noting the change has been attributed to Omicron 2.
“Ideally, people sick with symptoms won’t go to a crowd, but it could happen before someone gets symptoms and doesn’t even know,” Jaben said, cautioning people to be aware when going out and about. “It’s a high risk time right now in terms of getting infected.” With a 38% test positivity rate, that means that in a group of 10 people, there’s a 50-50 chance of a person being infected. In a group of 20, the percentage rises to 75, while in a group of 50, there’s a 100% chance someone will be infected, he explained.
While the Omicron variant is far less severe than the more deadly Delta variant, it is far, far more contagious, Jaben said, noting the sheer numbers are driving up hospitalizations. Jaben has been following a Georgia Tech risk estimator that estimates the likelihood of encountering a COVID positive person in group settings.
If that level of death is unacceptable, there are actions that can collectively be taken, he said, including getting vaccinated and following all COVID protocols. The most recent Haywood County Health and Human Services news release stated Haywood County’s new cases are roughly three times higher than last winter’s surge. The test positivity rate is at 38% and both local and regional hospitals remain full, and continue to go on diversion status frequently. COVID hospitalizations are up 27 percent in the last two weeks. Nationwide, there are between 30,000 and 60,000 deaths per year from he flu, Jaben said, but now 4,000 people are dying daily from COVID.
“The question that’s not being answered is, what is an acceptable rate of hospitalizations and death if this was to become endemic,” Jaben said. “In North Carolina, we have 30 times more cases now than six weeks ago and three times more hospitalizations than six weeks ago.” The other public health issue that is still being discussed, Jaben said, is the level of risk that’s acceptable once the COVID virus becomes endemic, or just another illness society has to live with.
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