My bet before Christmas was for Mississippi’s straight up Omicron surge to start January 1, based on a prior start of the UK surge December 1. Mississippi surges have followed UK surges by 30 days, looking at the NYT charts. Our surge started five days earlier than I had expected on December 27, perhaps owing to Omicron’s even more rapid spread.
The UK’s chart now appears to show Omicron peaked January 2, a turndown that appears confirmed by a more noticeable downturn in cases in hardest hit London. If the same pattern pertains, my bet is for Mississippi’s Omicron peak to come about January 27.
That is not to predict Omicron will disappear by the end of January, only that the slope downward could begin here by then. Unlike the UK where 71% have had at least two vaccine shots, in Mississippi just 49% have. It would surely take a full month and more, well into February or early March, for Mississippi’s Omicron surge to recede to where it was before Christmas.
I am counting, though, on Covid becoming endemic rather than epidemic by spring. So far, I’ve maintained my plans to resume real vacation travel (my first since 2019) by mid-May. Spring seems like a safe bet if for no other reason than Covid appears seasonal. It is not just mild weather we all need to count on a good get away, but the full sun of longer days whose UV rays can kill the virus that back in winter wafts around all too easily. We also need weather not so hot as to drive everyone back indoors where dehumidifying AC’s promote transmission. Spring through June, in my view at least, remains the ideal time for planned bookings and a real vacation.
Yet, for the next two months at least, I look for Omicron to continue to challenge Mississippi’s health care system as well as our sense of normalcy. The sheer number of infections has a toll when not all cases prove mild. Already, hospitalization rates for those over age 70 are matching the same numbers we saw at the top of the Delta surge last August (NYT). Against that backdrop, the number of available Mississippi’s health care workers has continued to decline since the last surge in the summer. Many more health care staff have quit or are out sick or quarantined, so the uptick in cases faces a more vulnerable health care system.
I am sadly astonished, though, that the amount of vaccine misinformation I am seeing in these pages continues apace, even as we again face case charts pointing for now only up. Greta Mills, for example, wrote January 6 that the vaccinated are “transmitting the virus right along with the unvaccinated.” As a comment behind her article notes, she misses the point. Even at this stage of the pandemic the focus remains on our burdened public health care system. Indeed, Fareed Zacharia, whose eloquent essays I often follow, cites an end of December UK Health Security Agency analysis (WPO Op-Ed January 6) emphasizing the real point. The study finds that those “with two doses of the vaccine plus a booster shot are 88% less likely to be hospitalized than those without vaccinations.” Yes, breakthrough infections occur, but the vaccinated and boosted are much less likely to burden our hospitals. Indeed, even if one has just the two doses with no booster, even then one is still “estimated to be 65 percent less likely to need to be hospitalized” than the unvaccinated. Unvaccinated status carries real risks.
As a result, Zacharia concludes: “We must have different rules across the board for those who are vaccinated. We know from the science and the statistics that they will impose many fewer burdens on the health-care system. Why should the willfully unvaccinated be able to force the rest of society to pay the price for their refusal to take a simple medical precaution?”
Similarly, William Jeanes’ article in these pages (NSS January 6), claims that “no US resident has yet died from” Omicron. Actually, just before Christmas, with Omicron only around since Thanksgiving, the first death linked by genomic sequencing to Omicron was recorded in Harris County, Texas. WebMD reports: “The man, who was in his 50s…was unvaccinated and had previously been infected with COVID-19. He recently contracted the virus again.” (WebMD December 24, 2021). If only he had been vaccinated, surely, he would be alive today for his family and friends. Also, while it takes several weeks for the deaths to start showing up in the charts, and even longer for any sequencing back to the strain, the charts in the NYT clearly show deaths ticking up during the Omicron surge sure enough, although at a mercifully slower pace than with Delta. No one should downplay the effects of the current surge. Nor should anyone, as the family of the Houston victim must attest, count on a prior infection to save them from possible hospitalization or worse.
Finally, while in Mississippi unvaccinated status may not matter to a person (oblivious though they may be of the unpardonable selfishness and inconsideration of it all), there is an additional matter affecting them that should give them pause. One cannot enter a restaurant or sports venue just three hours away in New Orleans without a vaccination card. The same is true for many desired travel destinations throughout the US. Nor can one catch a flight abroad without having a vaccination card tucked away along with one’s passport. Unless one is planning on staying put in this little neck of the woods, one should become vaccinated if only to be able to experience the larger world beyond the limits of the state line. When it comes to a vaccination card: “Don’t leave home without it!”.
Robert P. Wise is a Northsider.