Where are we with omicron? I suppose it depends on whom you ask and how you look at it. National statistics are all well and good but we have such different social patterns in different parts of the country, some based on climate, some based on population density, some based on politics that pundits declaring this or that about the country as a whole rarely gives a coherent picture of what’s going on. It’s much more nuanced than that. Case counts appear to have plateaued and are starting to descend in some of the large metropolitan areas where it first took hold. Case counts continue to dramatically rise in more rural states.
The interesting thing about omicron is the speed at which it has spread and transformed our understanding of the virus. It was first reported in South Africa at Thanksgiving, only eight weeks ago and rapidly became the dominant strain everywhere thanks to mutations that significantly increased its transmissibility between hosts. If that wasn’t enough, there’s now a new subvariant of omicron that’s starting to spread that appears to be even more transmissible than the original. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear to be any more virulent in terms of clinical disease.
We’re at something over 2,000 deaths daily in the US, roughly double where we were prior to omicron. We’re also at about 700,000 new infections daily, a huge number, but one that seems to be starting to plateau. The number of people who have fallen ill in the last few weeks is such, that even with a significant vaccinated population, the absolute number of critically ill individuals, even if it’s a much smaller percentage of the population than before, is inundating the health care system. The numbers of inpatients at UAB is back around 250, similar to the numbers prior to the release of the vaccine last winter. Reports from the local ICU front, however, show a very different hospitalized population now than then. Last year, those in the hospital were predominantly elderly or people with critical service jobs who were not able to isolate at home (in Alabama, predominantly people of color). This year, those in the hospital are predominantly white men between 40 and 60 who refused vaccination for political reasons.
We’re in the peak hospitalization period which follows the peak infection period by several weeks. Hospitalizations nationwide are up 25% from two weeks ago and are still trending up. The mortality curves will likely go up in early February. Vaccines continue to hold the line somewhat. A vaccinated person is 1/16 less likely to be hospitalized and 1/68 less likely to die than an unvaccinated person according to the most recent CDC data. Most vaccinated people who fall ill enough to require hospitalization are, of course, generally not healthy individuals at baseline. If you’re healthy, vaccinated, and boosted, I wouldn’t worry a lot – I would still quarantine if you get infected though. It’s not about you. It’s about breaking transmission chains so it doesn’t pass through you to someone whom it might seriously endanger due to their underlying health conditions or immune status.
Omicron has done a bit of a number on my life this week. After two knock ’em dead performances of 9 to 5, one of the leads developed Covid and needs to quarantine leading to the cancellation of the rest of this last weekend’s run. We’re awaiting word on scheduling for this next weekend. Having already had my omicron, I’m not personally worried about anything but I don’t want to be a conduit back to my patient population so I continue to abide to good hygiene practices and CDC guidelines. This is live theater in the age of Covid. Even local productions are going to have to start using swings, double casting, and understudies if they want to eke out their runs. Oh brave new world…
I haven’t told an anecdote for a while so I’ll tell the first one that comes to mind. It has absolutely nothing to do with omicron or with theater or missed performances. (I am proud to say that in my years of performing, I have never missed a scheduled performance – I’ve had to back out of a few projects that I have been cast in when life circumstance changed my schedule and I realized I would miss performances but that’s a different matter). This involves my siblings whom I rarely write about. I get along very well with my brother and sister, but due to the weird spacing in my family, there’s five and six years between me and my sibs while there’s only thirteen months between the two of them so growing up, it was always two against one. They loved to gang up on me and tease me mercilessly, especially when they were around five or six and I was a very grown up ten or eleven. At that time, we had a jungle gym in the backyard, a sort of miniature boot camp exercise thingy which I was a little too big for, but which was the right size for them. They were hanging it off it one day while I was keeping an eye out to make sure no one fell and broke anything important and they decided that my name was just wrong. Andrew just wouldn’t cut it. Trying to get a rise out of me, and noting my somewhat ramshackle posture (which I still have), I would have to be known as Androopy or Droopy. My brother, thinking that was hysterical, took it a step further and decided my name should be Buzzoopy. Somehow, the names stuck. To this day, my sister calls me Drew (the only person who generally does) and my brother calls me Buzz. My father calls me Butch. I’m not sure what the etymology of that one is. He’ll have to explain it as I’m a soft butch at best…
Making some decisions about whether to publish a second book covering 2021 over the next few weeks. If you have strong opinions, let me know. And if you haven’t bought the first one yet, it’s still for sale (and only about 15% of you have – I get the sales figures…) Be well all – keep your hands clean, your mouth and nose covered, and get your booster.