Omicron is here, and spreading quickly.
McLennan County public health officials reported last week that the omicron variant of variant of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, was first detected here Dec. 10. In the two weeks since, the seven-day average of new cases has tripled. Active cases increased from 215 to 575. As a reference point, the most active cases McLennan County has seen at any given time is 2,151 — on Sept. 4 during the late summer delta surge.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said omicron spreads more quickly than previous variants, but current vaccines so far have proven to be effective in preventing severe symptoms, hospitalizations and deaths due to infection from the new variant. So far, hospitalizations have not risen in conjunction with the number of cases associated with omicron.
We’re in the beginning stages of this wave of infections in the United States. Public health officials are playing catch-up in studying the new variant’s severity and symptoms. CDC officials have stressed that so-called breakthrough infections — vaccinated people getting COVID-19 — are more prevalent with omicron, to the point of being routine.
When the delta variant arrived in McLennan County, hospitalizations rose almost as quickly as cases. Both the seven-day average of new daily cases as well as the number of people hospitalized because of COVID-19 tripled in the last 10 days of July. So far, hospitalizations associated with the omicron variant have not increased noticeably over the past two weeks. Let’s hope that continues to be the case locally.
COVID-19 vaccinations have slowed down dramatically in the past two months locally. We can do better.
In case you’re wondering, only 16 percent of the county’s population has tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. And with barely 50 percent having been vaccinated (even partially), that leaves 137,000 people in the county who are likely to get COVID-19 in the coming months with zero protection. We hope it is less severe, but the studies are incomplete. Why chance it? Get the shot. Do what you can to help break the chain of transmission — of this variant or the next.
The delta wave in August, September and October killed 227 McLennan County residents. It brought our local health care system to the “brink of collapse,” according to Waco Mayor Dillon Meek.
With the original version of the virus, hospitalizations and deaths were lagging indicators. People died after contracting COVID-19 weeks and sometimes months later. Each variant since the original — made possible by a reluctant population refusing to do the right thing and get vaccinated — is marked by different characteristics. Delta spread quicker than the original, and killed more ruthlessly. Omicron, at least so far, spreads quicker than previous variants, but hasn’t sickened as quickly. Then again, we’re only two weeks into this new wave.