Omicron for the mainstream

Omicron for the mainstream. By Emily Anthes and Jonathon Corum, in the NYT.

Omicron now accounts for more than 99.5 percent of new infections in the United States … The nation reported as many as 800,000 new cases a day in mid-January, more than three times as many as at any previous point in the pandemic. …

Faster incubation:

Omicron moves fast. It spreads swiftly through populations, and infections develop quickly in individuals.

The time that elapses between when someone is first exposed to the virus and when they develop symptoms is known as the incubation period.

The original version of the coronavirus and early variants had an incubation period of about five days, on average. The Delta variant seems to move faster, with an average incubation period of about four days. Omicron is swifter still, with an incubation period of roughly three days …

Inoculates against delta?

Omicron may not act like previous variants. Animal and laboratory studies indicate that it may not be as good at infecting the lungs as Delta, but that it may replicate more quickly in the upper respiratory tract.

One small study found that antibodies produced after an Omicron infection seem to protect against Delta, but Delta infections offer little protection against Omicron. If the finding holds up, it means that Delta may soon have trouble finding hospitable hosts — and that Omicron is likely to replace Delta rather than co-exist with it. …

Severity:

Omicron appears to cause less severe disease than Delta. In one recent study, researchers found that people with Omicron infections were less likely to be hospitalized, end up in the I.C.U. or require mechanical ventilation than those with Delta infections.

One possible explanation is that Omicron is less likely to damage the lungs than previous variants. A variant that proliferates primarily in the upper respiratory tract may cause less severe disease in most people. One indication of reduced severity is that unvaccinated people seem less likely to be hospitalized with Omicron than with Delta.

But Omicron’s apparent mildness may also stem from the fact that it is infecting far more vaccinated people than Delta did. Omicron is skilled at evading the antibodies produced after vaccination, which is leading to more breakthrough infections, but vaccinated people are still protected from the most severe disease. Booster shots of mRNA vaccines are 90 percent effective against hospitalization with Omicron, according to the C.D.C.

Still, be fearful:

Still, doctors cautioned, although the variant may be milder on average, some patients, especially those who are unvaccinated or have compromised immune systems, may become severely ill from Omicron infections. And it’s too early to know whether breakthrough cases of Omicron might result in long Covid.

UK data indicates the omicron is about a tenth as harmful as delta, and about a quarter as harmful as original, even taking vaccination into account. Too early to say for sure, however.