In the Long Term, Rise of Omicron Could Be a Good Thing

And more on the surging COVID-19 variant
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 29, 2021 3:27 AM CST
Updated Dec 29, 2021 7:00 AM CST
Rise of Omicron Could Be Good News Against Delta
A test center employee performs a coronavirus test in the 'Kurfuerstendamm (Ku'damm)' shopping road in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021.   (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

(Newser) – Omicron woes seem to have taken over the country, with flights being canceled left and right, the sports and showbiz worlds continuing to be impacted, and the US on Tuesday hitting a record high seven-day average of 254,496 new cases per day. A CNN medical analyst speculates that number could hit 500,000 sometime over the next 10 days. But a new study suggests a future in which omicron is the dominant variant of COVID-19 might be less scary than one in which delta dominates, the New York Times reports. "Omicron is likely to push delta out," says a virologist at the South Africa research institute that led the study. Other scientists and doctors say they've seen that playing out in real time, with delta cases going down as omicron cases go up. Better yet, the new study says those who've had omicron appear to get some level of antibody protection against delta, though more research must be done. If omicron continues to lead to less severe illness and fewer hospitalizations and deaths, that's positive news, experts say. More on the variant:

  • A big "but" for the US: While omicron is indeed the dominant variant in the US as of now, the CDC on Tuesday released new data slashing the estimate of just how prevalent it was earlier this month. Rather than the previously reported 73% of new cases thought to be caused by the omicron variant as of Dec. 18, the true number was 23%, NPR reports. Behind the rest of the surge at that time: delta. As of Dec. 25, however, 59% of US cases were omicron. "The implication is that we have a lot of delta going on and that requires a lot more attention," says one doctor.
  • Incubation period: Omicron may also have a shorter incubation period, with the New York Times in a separate article reporting on two clusters of omicron cases, one in California and one in Norway. Both of them suggest the incubation period was about three days; in the California case, it took anywhere from 33 to 75 hours for people exposed to the omicron variant to become symptomatic and contagious, CNBC reports. Delta's incubation period was about four days, with the original coronavirus as high as six days. It's still not clear how long someone with omicron remains contagious.
  • More positive news: While hospitalizations for children are on the rise, researchers and doctors alike say there's so far no evidence omicron is any more severe for children than previous variants. In fact, the data still suggest it's less severe for them than delta, they say. The issue: Children under age 5 still can't be vaccinated and there are low vaccination rates for children 5 and older, and so many are getting infected that hospitalizations are naturally rising, the New York Times reports.
  • So what's it like? Omicron isn't "the same disease we were seeing a year ago," an immunologist says, per Bloomberg. Cases appear to be milder, and hospitalizations appear to be shorter. For a first-person account, see Nsikan Akpan's piece at Gothamist.
(Read more omicron variant stories.)

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