Some Good News on Omicron?

We'll take what we can get.

Some cautiously optimistic news from the NYT: Studies Suggest Why Omicron Is Less Severe: It Spares the Lungs.

A spate of new studies on lab animals and human tissues are providing the first indication of why the Omicron variant causes milder disease than previous versions of the coronavirus.

In studies on mice and hamsters, Omicron produced less damaging infections, often limited largely to the upper airway: the nose, throat and windpipe. The variant did much less harm to the lungs, where previous variants would often cause scarring and serious breathing difficulty.

Granted, we are relatively early into this variant, and the nature of scientific knowledge is that it evolves as additional evidence is known, this is encouraging news given the specter of ventilators and lingering death that has accompanied this disease.

But, of course,

those findings came with a lot of caveats.


the bulk of early Omicron infections were in young people, who are less likely to get seriously ill with all versions of the virus. And many of those early cases were happening in people with some immunity from previous infections or vaccines. It was unclear whether Omicron would also prove less severe in an unvaccinated older person, for example.

Experiments on animals can help clear up these ambiguities, because scientists can test Omicron on identical animals living in identical conditions. More than half a dozen experiments made public in recent days all pointed to the same conclusion: Omicron is milder than Delta and other earlier versions of the virus.

In simple terms, it is clearly better to be young and healthy, conditions that are either entirely or partially outside of one’s control, or to be vaccinated, which very much is one’s control

Nonetheless, as we all are poised to return in full force to work and school, let’s hope that, in fact, Omicron creates milder effects, especially given the skyrocketing number of infections.

Source: NYT

And in regards to the more serious metrics, hospitalizations were up, as of the most recent figures, by 25% and deaths down 4%. The real question is going to be what those figures look like in the coming days in terms of how severely ill the newly infected become (or, hopefully, don’t).

Of course, even if the disease is milder in the main, the large number of infections creates a greater potential pool of people to get seriously sick and still overwhelm hospitals.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    If Omicron is more easily transmissible, and less severe, and leaves behind at least some immunity to other Covid variants, and we can avoid exhausting every last health care professional in the country, this may be a good thing. Of sorts.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    As far as hospitals are concerned, I am reading that they are getting crushed. Yes, omicron is much less lethal, but it is far more transmissible which is translating into a hire load of less ill patients. So if one needs to break a leg, or have a severe case of pneumonia, it might be a good idea to wait a month or 3.

  3. steve says:

    Yes, a lot of hospitals are getting crushed. We were down to 1 ICU bed for our network. We are running a census of about 110% meaning 10% of our pts are being held and treated in the ED or in makeshift beds somewhere. We had lots of contingency plans for this in March,2020 and we had to use some of those plans. Now it is harder since we are short on staff with so many having left the field or refusing to work in ICU anymore.

    Anticipating the right wing response we do have a vaccine mandate. However, we do have a religious exemption. We ended up with about 97% vaccinated. Of the other 3% the huge majority were granted exemptions. Out of a total workforce of about 17,000 we lost less then 10 total related to the mandate. Mostly people are just tired of this. It also makes it harder that so many of the hospitalized are unvaccinated and a number of them are hostile. Fortunately that percentage is small but then we still have families to deal with and they are often worse.


  4. Erik says:

    Yup, our hospital is overflowing too. We went from 16 COVID positive inpatients on Monday to 78 on Thursday, which is the most we’ve ever had IIRC. omicron may be generally more mild, but, due to the massive numbers infected, the total number of severe infections is still higher. It doesn’t help that, even though our staff is overall boosted in high numbers, the breakthrough infections are crushing our already stressed staffing. We canceled a number of cardiac (and lots of other) surgeries because there were no ICU beds. It isn’t like the delay in taking care of those patients won’t result in some deaths amongst that group.

  5. EddieInCA says:

    I’ve been in meetings for the past three days, coming up with contingency plans for returning to shooting next week. I’ve the break, we’ve had 7 people test positive. We’re convinced, based on those cases, that we will lost probably 20% of our workforce when our testing begins today. Everyone needs two clear PCR tests (which we administer free of charge) before they can come back to work. I tested yesterday and will text again to return to work Monday.

    We’re running scenarios to see “What’s the minimum crew size we can still shoot with?” and “Which cast members can we shoot around if they get Covid?” We’re in the mindset that many people will come back and test positive.

    LA County shattered their daily record for cases yesterday after shattering it on Thursday as well.

  6. Modulo Myself says:

    I tested positive yesterday. If it wasn’t for the test, I would say this is a very minor cold. Omicron blew through my family over the holidays so it wasn’t a surprise. If it was just a cold–I was planning on surfing tomorrow. Not going to now, obviously. But I could easily put on my winter gear and paddle out at the Rockaways in December. I feel totally fine.

    I just cannot see how any shutdown of society is going to happen after this wave. If you are vaccinated and boosted, Omicron seems to be basically just a cold. You shouldn’t go to work with a cold. That’s an annoying habit that should stop. But asking for quarantines and closing down restaurants is going to be hard after this.

  7. JKB says:

    Comment deleted due to stupidity.

    Things that would have avoided this deletion:

    1. Use of actual evidence.
    2. Ability to deploy evidence to create a reasoned position.

    It would also help if the author understood that SARS-CoV-2 is the same thing as Covid-19.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:


    If hospitals are overrun it is entirely due to failure of government. Biden forced hospitals to fire the unvaccinated staff cutting capacity severely.

    Uh huh. Except that @steve – a doctor – says:

    We ended up with about 97% vaccinated. Of the other 3% the huge majority were granted exemptions. Out of a total workforce of about 17,000 we lost less then 10 total related to the mandate.

    Which makes your comment a return to form for you, regurgitating whatever crap you’re fed by the MAGAverse. And we had such hopes.

  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    And BTW, the reason people are still dying is because of lying, cretinous fuckwits like you who spread bullshit about vaccinations. Trumpies are lepers, disease vectors, slow motion cult suicides clogging hospitals and killing people who can’t get care because of you assholes.

    Blaming the people trying to keep you idiots alive is simply contemptible.

  10. JohnSF says:

    Lost the link, but on twitter an English doctor was reporting that his and his regions hospitals stats from patient cases and workforce testing, indicate that though quite a few multiply vaccinated and/or previously infected have caught omicron, hardly any multiply vaccinated develop severe cases.
    Those relatively few vaxxed that do have problems are almost exclusively those with serious pre-existing conditions.

    The overwhelming majority of those with severe cases are the unvacinnated; but even among them, severe cases are pretty rare.

    It looks like the upper bronchial preference of omicron both reduces likely severity, and increases transmissibility, particularly due to asymptomatic infection and transmission.
    Even partial immunity appears pretty good at stopping spread from nose/throat to lungs.

    Fits with UK pattern of soaring cases but continued hospital cases way below previous peaks even when accounting for lag.
    Deaths even more so.

    Similar indications in France; of 17,000 in hospital, there are 896 total on IC ventilation, and of those severe cases 80% are not fully vaccinated.
    (In French usage I think this means two jabs, booster shots not counted)

    Also South African data; cases peaked at 112% of delta peak, hospitalisations at 58% of delta peak, deaths at 6% of delta peak.

    It really is very good news, insofar as anything about this whole unpleasant business is “good”.
    But a lot of unvaxxed people are in for an unpleasant time in the near future.

  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    And we had such hopes.

    Maybe you and the mouse that lives in your pocket did, but I assumed it was a lightning strike, a one off, the haystack needle found.

  12. JohnSF says:

    For heaven’s sake man, can you not at least try to make some attempt to analyse information objectively?

    Starting with the fact that UK data relating to SARS positivity is for SARS-CoV2 aka Covid-19.

    UK government official definition:

    SARS-CoV-2 is the scientific name given to the specific virus that causes the coronavirus (COVID-19) disease and is an abbreviation of “Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2”. SARS-CoV-2 has been colloquially referred to as “coronavirus”, although coronavirus technically refers to a type of virus that includes SARS-CoV-2 and the common cold among other things.

    And do you really think it is sensible to have unvaccinated staff in a position to spread an infection with resistance-breach characteristics among the potentially highly vulnerable in a hospital?

  13. Michael Reynolds says:


    And do you really think

    No, he really doesn’t.

  14. Gustopher says:


    Already seen tweets and videos from nurse who being fired in September are now being begged to return.

    They can get vaccinated. You don’t welcome plague rats into your city.

    Good to see the NY Times is only two weeks behind on a fast moving story. Saw this on the 19th.

    It was reported then from the South African numbers, but the differences in populations (the population there is much younger) makes it very hard to confidently say that we would see the same thing. We needed more data, from the UK which is a lot more like us. We now have that data. That is newsworthy.

    CDC had declared Omicron at 70% but then backed off? Error or realization that Omicron cases don’t become hospitalizations.

    Error. And the 70% number was cases, not hospitalizations, so your weird thinking isn’t relevant.

    If hospitals are overrun it is entirely due to failure of government

    It’s the unvaccinated in the hospitals, and the government has done a remarkable job in making vaccines available. A large majority of Americans are vaccinated (not enough boosted, to be fair), and that has dramatically cut the overrun of hospitals.

    The Antivaxxer liars are the ones responsible for overrun hospitals. People like you, or whoever you listen to if you actually believe this bullshit.

  15. Kathy says:

    I’d no idea the supply chain issues had created a shortage of bleach.

    On a serious note, I propose to James and Steven a zero tolerance policy regarding antivaxxers. Such people have blood on their hands.

  16. @Modulo Myself: Hope you continue to be in the mild category and agree that lockdowns seems unwarranted.

    And agreed:

    You shouldn’t go to work with a cold. That’s an annoying habit that should stop.

  17. @Kathy: See above.

  18. Kathy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:


  19. Gustopher says:

    At some point this year, I discovered that I suddenly hate green beans. There is some part of their odor that reminds me of the oil used to deep-fry breaded fish.

    They have gone from being perfectly innocuous to being vile. Been this way for months.

    We know that Covid affects the sense of smell, so I wonder if I have gotten an otherwise asymptomatic infection, or even whether it might be a side effect of the vaccine (do we know whether the smell affecting part of the virus can be found on the spike protein?)

    It could also be a random change in tastes as I age, but it seems peculiar. My life-long indifference to green beans has come to an end, and now I am seeking out mixed vegetables that do not contain the dreaded green bean.

    I offer up this random, poorly sourced, basically meaningless anecdote to test the boundaries of @Steven L. Taylor’s new “no Covid bullshit” policy, because I cannot see a rule without poking at boundaries at least a little bit, even if I agree with them. I am a bad person.

    I should check with my brother who cannot feet his fingers and feet due to long-Covid or the damage from sepsis, or the many other problems his adventure with Covid triggered, to see how he feels about green beans.

    (I also hate raspberries, but that’s been going on forever… unless that changed? I should test)

  20. JohnSF says:

    You hate raspberries!
    What evilitude is this?
    (My favourite fruit)
    (Especially after fried breaded fish)

    Sense of smell is weird.
    Has fluctuated a lot for me since I quit smoking; and sometimes got really mixed up after having a cold since then (about five years).
    Plus some neurologists I’ve spoken to think that smell/brain connections are so deep, purely mind-state or broader sensory shifts may impact on perceptions of smell. For instance, some psychotropics can enhance or modify smell/taste.

    E.G. : I’ve never cared that much for cannabis, because for me it makes all alcoholic drinks taste bloody awful.

  21. grumpy realist says:

    Air travel has been getting affected because they don’t have sufficient people to man the systems. I ended up getting rerouted on my way back to Chicago and O’Hare has been suffering cancellations as well.
    Plus we’re getting ridiculous numbers of cases reported here in Illinois. I’m glad I got the booster when I did.

  22. Gustopher says:

    @grumpy realist: The fact that we can’t even keep the airlines running at full capacity is not encouraging with hospitals. (And, no JKB, or ghost of JKB, it has nothing to do with vaccine mandates everything to do with workers getting sick — which may or may not have something to do with flying Petri dishes, customer contact, and flight crews staying in close quarters on the ground)

    I recommend people stay out of car accidents and avoid heart attacks and cancer for the next few months.

    Might be a good time to avoid stressful life changes, since those can trigger some health issues…. Everyone should take it easy for a bit. And try not to stress about the raging pandemic.

  23. @Gustopher: FWIW, James started the “Deleted for Stupidity” tact with JKB in another thread, this just seemed a good place to replicate.

    And we are happy to tolerate harmless nonsense, so feel to speculate all you like about the nature of your green bean aversion. 😉 We are, however, tired of unsourced, malicious information on this topic and are still trying to show some forbearance to him by not banning him out of acknowledgment of his long-timer status.