What “mild” really means when it comes to Omicron

https://www.axios.com/what-mild-really-means-when-it-comes-to-omicron-f808e5ba-5655-4ac5-b057-4afe3b0aa860.html?fbclid=IwAR27eTD0HrjsF_XiS_USEVn9MxermNoLWJNhU10AeIFQV_y59C7Fl3ok9RM

Illustration of a coronavirus cell in curly quotes.

The Omicron variant doesn’t cause as much severe illness as other variants have, but its “mild” symptoms can still be pretty unpleasant.

The big picture: The way health care professionals and doctors differentiate between “mild” and “severe” illness may not align with a layperson’s understanding of those terms.

“To a health care professional, ‘mild’ means you’re not getting hospitalized,” said Megan Ranney, academic dean at the Brown University School of Public Health.

  • But, she said: “Omicron symptoms can range from absolutely no symptoms to a really mild cold to something where you are in bed with shakes and chills, and have a horrible cough and are fatigued and headachy for weeks. Those are all ‘mild.'”
  • A “severe,” illness means you’d likely have symptoms such as very low oxygen levels, kidney damage and heart impairment, she said.

What we’re watching: Omicron is causing a lot less severe illness than previous variants, but a “mild” case can still require about a week away from work, especially in front-line jobs.

  • And because so many people have gotten infected in such a short time, it’s leaving schools, airlines, and other businesses — including, critically, hospitals — with large numbers of workers out sick simultaneously, The Atlantic reported.
  • Then there’s the matter of long COVID. A study published Thursday in Nature Immunology found ongoing, sustained inflammatory responses following even mild-to-moderate COVID-19 cases.

What they’re saying: “It’s going to be a messy few weeks. I don’t think there’s any way around it,” said Joseph Allen, a professor of public health at Harvard, per The Atlantic.

Healthcare workers are hospitals’ greatest concern

https://mailchi.mp/92a96980a92f/the-weekly-gist-january-14-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

As COVID hospitalizations surge to new highs, healthcare workers have become the rate-limiting factor for most hospitals’ ability to deliver care. Using self-reported data collected by the Department of Health and Human Services, the graphic above shows that hospital staffing concerns reached an all-time high this month, with nearly one in three hospitals reporting a critical shortage. (Anecdotal evidence from our conversations with hospital leaders suggests that the actual number in crisis may be even higher, with every system we’ve spoken to in the past month reporting severe staffing challenges.)

During previous surges, COVID hospitalizations and reported staffing shortages have ebbed and flowed together. However, staffing challenges and case numbers became decoupled during the Delta surge, as the percentage of hospitals reporting staffing shortages did not go down as the Delta wave subsided.
 
With a growing number of nurses and other staff choosing early retirement or looking for jobs in other sectors, health systems are navigating the Omicron spike with a smaller pool of workers. And now the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant is forcing healthcare workers to quarantine in droves.

As shown on the map, this is playing out both in highly vaccinated states like Vermont and California, and less-vaccinated places like West Virginia and Wyoming. That’s leading some state health officials and health systems to allow COVID-positive staff who are asymptomatic or experiencing mild symptoms to continue working—a policy which is being sharply criticized by nurses

While the end of the Omicron surge should bring some relief, longer-term staffing challenges will surely remain for most health systems.

Patients “with COVID” who are admitted for other reasons still strain hospitals

https://mailchi.mp/92a96980a92f/the-weekly-gist-january-14-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

As new COVID strain rages, a look inside a packed Louisiana hospital: 'We  haven't had many wins' | Coronavirus | theadvocate.com

Some pundits claim that current reporting on COVID hospital admissions is overly pessimistic, failing to account for a distinction between patients admitted explicitly “for COVID”, and those admitted for other reasons who also, incidentally, have COVID. The latter now comprise up to half of some health systems’ COVID patients.

In an article in The Atlantic this week, reporter Ed Yong rejects this dichotomy, on the grounds that it ignores both the significant number of people for whom COVID exacerbates underlying chronic conditions, as well as the challenges any patient with COVID poses to hospitals. As he points out, those patients still require isolation and special safety measures, further worsening the burden on an already-strained staff.

The Gist: For hospitals, dealing with endemic COVID will mean establishing strategies to manage COVID-positive patients without postponing much needed non-emergency care, and without overly taxing a stretched workforce. Downplaying the burden of “incidental COVID” is not helpful, but sustaining operations while on perpetual crisis footing will prove untenable.

Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers is a go

https://mailchi.mp/92a96980a92f/the-weekly-gist-january-14-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

Explainer: The legal challenges awaiting Biden's vaccine mandate | Reuters

Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers is a go, but its mandate for large employers and at-home testing plan face roadblocks. The US Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the vaccine mandate for the nation’s healthcare workers at facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid can go forward while lower courts hear legal challenges. But it said that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) did not have the authority to enforce the broader vaccine-or-test mandate for businesses over 100 employees, which would have covered more than 80 million private sector workers.

Meanwhile, private insurers are required to begin covering eight at-home tests per beneficiary per month starting tomorrow. The roughly half of Americans with private insurance coverage stand to benefit, if they’re lucky enough to get their hands on rapid tests, which have been in increasingly scarce supply.

The Gist: Health systems that were early to issue vaccine mandates will have a leg up on others who paused requirements amid ongoing legal challenges. Lagging facilities now have a little over a month to start enforcement amid troublesome staffing shortages.

Also, the use of the private insurance system to cover at-home tests not only excludes nearly 40 million seniors on traditional Medicare, as well as the uninsured, but means that the cost of tests will ultimately be borne by consumers and employers through higher insurance premiums.

Omicron exacerbates existing staffing shortages

https://mailchi.mp/0b6c9295412a/the-weekly-gist-january-7-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

  1. The incredibly contagious new coronavirus variant is sidelining healthcare workers with breakthrough infections and quarantines, as patients flood into hospitals across the country. While hospitals are reporting that most infected patients are less sick, the sheer number of patients is pushing an already stressed system into crisis. 

The Gist: Given mounting evidence that Omicron is both causing less severe disease and evading vaccines, health systems will need to balance employee COVID testing and quarantine protocols against the constraints caused by mounting numbers of otherwise asymptomatic care workers out sick. As COVID becomes endemic, health systems must find a way to normalize operations even as they manage employee infections. It won’t be sustainable to continually revert to canceling non-emergent procedures (many of which carry clinical consequences to patients if they are delayed) and shifting to crisis standards of care. 

Consumer confidence unshaken by Omicron—at least so far

https://mailchi.mp/0b6c9295412a/the-weekly-gist-january-7-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

While Omicron’s rapid spread is causing COVID hospitalizations to surge once again, the impact on consumer confidence may be different this time around. Drawing on the most recent data from analytics firm Strata Decision Technology, the graphic above shows how hospital volumes have fluctuated throughout the pandemic. Hospital volumes mostly returned to pre-COVID levels early last summer, until the Delta surge caused patients to begin avoiding care across all settings once again. 

It remains to be seen if the forty percent of consumers who said they were less likely to seek non-emergency care during the Delta surge feel similarly about the Omicron spike. So far, consumer sentiment seems to be holding steady at last summer’s levels, though we’re still a few weeks away from Omicron’s expected peak. 

As the pandemic enters its third year, it’s also likely that consumers who have been delaying care will simply be unwilling or unable to hold off any longer. But even if Omicron doesn’t dissuade consumers from seeking non-COVID care, health systems will be hard pressed to accommodate both COVID and non-COVID care amid worrisome staffing shortages. 

US hospitals seeing different kind of COVID surge this time

https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-business-health-pandemics-49810a71d2ca21c4b56adb1d1092b6dd?fbclid=IwAR1KvwTCWhAHZwDlmzgzMiNL5xhBfOySbZwgzXs3IAXtWlHai_VRfni5eaQ

Registered nurse Rachel Chamberlin, of Cornish, N.H., right, steps out of an isolation room where where Fred Rutherford, of Claremont, N.H., left, recovers from COVID-19 at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, in Lebanon, N.H., Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. Hospitals like this medical center, the largest in New Hampshire, are overflowing with severely ill, unvaccinated COVID-19 patients from northern New England. If he returns home, Rutherford said, he promises to get vaccinated and tell others to do so, too. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Hospitals across the U.S. are feeling the wrath of the omicron variant and getting thrown into disarray that is different from earlier COVID-19 surges.

This time, they are dealing with serious staff shortages because so many health care workers are getting sick with the fast-spreading variant. People are showing up at emergency rooms in large numbers in hopes of getting tested for COVID-19, putting more strain on the system. And a surprising share of patients — two-thirds in some places — are testing positive while in the hospital for other reasons.

At the same time, hospitals say the patients aren’t as sick as those who came in during the last surge. Intensive care units aren’t as full, and ventilators aren’t needed as much as they were before.

The pressures are nevertheless prompting hospitals to scale back non-emergency surgeries and close wards, while National Guard troops have been sent in in several states to help at medical centers and testing sites.

Nearly two years into the pandemic, frustration and exhaustion are running high among health care workers.

“This is getting very tiring, and I’m being very polite in saying that,” said Dr. Robert Glasgow of University of Utah Health, which has hundreds of workers out sick or in isolation.

About 85,000 Americans are in the hospital with COVID-19, just short of the delta-surge peak of about 94,000 in early September, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The all-time high during the pandemic was about 125,000 in January of last year.

But the hospitalization numbers do not tell the whole story. Some cases in the official count involve COVID-19 infections that weren’t what put the patients in the hospital in the first place.

Dr. Fritz François, chief of hospital operations at NYU Langone Health in New York City, said about 65% of patients admitted to that system with COVID-19 recently were primarily hospitalized for something else and were incidentally found to have the virus.

At two large Seattle hospitals over the past two weeks, three-quarters of the 64 patients testing positive for the coronavirus were admitted with a primary diagnosis other than COVID-19.

Joanne Spetz, associate director of research at the Healthforce Center at the University of California, San Francisco, said the rising number of cases like that is both good and bad.

The lack of symptoms shows vaccines, boosters and natural immunity from prior infections are working, she said. The bad news is that the numbers mean the coronavirus is spreading rapidly, and some percentage of those people will wind up needing hospitalization.

This week, 36% of California hospitals reported critical staffing shortages. And 40% are expecting such shortages.

Some hospitals are reporting as much as one quarter of their staff out for virus-related reasons, said Kiyomi Burchill, the California Hospital Association’s vice president for policy and leader on pandemic matters.

In response, hospitals are turning to temporary staffing agencies or transferring patients out.

University of Utah Health plans to keep more than 50 beds open because it doesn’t have enough nurses. It is also rescheduling surgeries that aren’t urgent. In Florida, a hospital temporarily closed its maternity ward because of staff shortages.

In Alabama, where most of the population is unvaccinated, UAB Health in Birmingham put out an urgent request for people to go elsewhere for COVID-19 tests or minor symptoms and stay home for all but true emergencies. Treatment rooms were so crowded that some patients had to be evaluated in hallways and closets.

As of Monday, New York state had just over 10,000 people in the hospital with COVID-19, including 5,500 in New York City. That’s the most in either the city or state since the disastrous spring of 2020.

New York City hospital officials, though, reported that things haven’t become dire. Generally, the patients aren’t as sick as they were back then. Of the patients hospitalized in New York City, around 600 were in ICU beds.

“We’re not even halfway to what we were in April 2020,” said Dr. David Battinelli, the physician-in-chief for Northwell Health, New York state’s largest hospital system.

Similarly, in Washington state, the number of COVID-19-infected people on ventilators increased over the past two weeks, but the share of patients needing such equipment dropped.

In South Carolina, which is seeing unprecedented numbers of new cases and a sharp rise in hospitalizations, Gov. Henry McMaster took note of the seemingly less-serious variant and said: “There’s no need to panic. Be calm. Be happy.”

Amid the omicron-triggered surge in demand for COVID-19 testing across the U.S., New York City’s Fire Department is asking people not to call for ambulance just because they are having trouble finding a test.

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine announced new or expanded testing sites in nine cities to steer test-seekers away from ERs. About 300 National Guard members are being sent to help out at those centers.

In Connecticut, many ER patients are in beds in hallways, and nurses are often working double shifts because of staffing shortages, said Sherri Dayton, a nurse at the Backus Plainfield Emergency Care Center. Many emergency rooms have hours-long waiting times, she said.

“We are drowning. We are exhausted,” Dayton said.

Doctors and nurses are complaining about burnout and a sense their neighbors are no longer treating the pandemic as a crisis, despite day after day of record COVID-19 cases.

“In the past, we didn’t have the vaccine, so it was us all hands together, all the support. But that support has kind of dwindled from the community, and people seem to be moving on without us,” said Rachel Chamberlin, a nurse at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Edward Merrens, chief clinical officer at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, said more than 85% of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients were unvaccinated.

Several patients in the hospital’s COVID-19 ICU unit were on ventilators, a breathing tube down their throats. In one room, staff members made preparations for what they feared would be the final family visit for a dying patient.

One of the unvaccinated was Fred Rutherford, a 55-year-old from Claremont, New Hampshire. His son carried him out of the house when he became sick and took him to the hospital, where he needed a breathing tube for a while and feared he might die.

If he returns home, he said, he promises to get vaccinated and tell others to do so too.

“I probably thought I was immortal, that I was tough,” Rutherford said, speaking from his hospital bed behind a window, his voice weak and shaky.

But he added: “I will do anything I can to be the voice of people that don’t understand you’ve got to get vaccinated. You’ve got to get it done to protect each other.”

Did you know that as of January 1st, Omicron represents 95.4% of US cases?

May be an image of text that says '100% As of January 1, Omicron represents 95.4% of US cases Other 75% lota Gamma 50% Omicron Omicron Alpha 25% Delta 0% Mar 13 May 22 Jun 26 Jul31 Jul Sep 11 Oct 23 Source: Centers for Disease Control Apr17 17 Estimated proportions of COVID-19 infection in the US (March 13, 2021 to Jan 1, 2022) USAFACTS Nov 27 revention'

In the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot changed in how the US responded to the virus and adapted to new variants.

Did you know that as of January 1st, Omicron represents 95.4% of US cases?

Find out more: https://usafacts.org/vis…/coronavirus-covid-19-spread-map/

What is ‘flurona’? Coronavirus and influenza co-infections reported as omicron surges.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2022/01/05/flurona-coronavirus-flu-symptoms/

New year, new coronavirus term?

Many people around the world kicked off 2022 by searching for more information about “flurona,” after Israel reported that two young pregnant women had tested positive for both the coronavirus and the flu.

Doctors have long been concerned about the potential impact of a “twindemic” — with influenza cases rising as covid-19 cases threaten to overwhelm hospitals — and called on people to get flu shots and coronavirus vaccinations. On the other hand, “flurona” refers to when one person has both respiratory infections at the same time — which health officials say is a possibility as cases of the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus surge this winter across the world.

Here’s what we know so far.

Are cases of flurona new?

After two young pregnant women tested positive for both the coronavirus and influenza in Israel, many local and global media outlets dubbed it “flurona” in headlines. The Sun, a British tabloid, swiftly branded the co-infection “double trouble.”

While the word is relatively new and rising in popularity, cases of flu and coronavirus co-infections are not. And flurona is not a distinct disease but refers to when a person has been infected with both viruses. Flurona instances have been detected in countries including the United States, Israel, Brazil, the Philippines and Hungary, some even before the term was coined.

Instances of the co-infection were reported in the United States almost two years ago, according to a report from the Atlantic. In February 2020, a man entered a New York hospital with a severe cough and fever. At the time, the city had not officially reported any cases of the coronavirus. The patient tested positive for influenza and was then tested for the coronavirus. Weeks later, results confirmed that he, along with threefamily members, had contracted both viruses.

Where has flurona been reported?

There have been other recent occurrences in the United States. A Houston teenager spent Christmas Day isolating in his bedroom after contracting the coronavirus and the flu at the same time. Alec Zierlein, who had been vaccinated against the coronavirus but not the flu, was also tested for strep throat, but results confirmed he had only the former two infections, which he described as being “like a mild cold.” After his diagnosis, Zierlein told ABC News that he was not aware the coronavirus and the flu could stack “up on one another” and that he would, in the future, get a flu shot as a precaution.

A health official in the Philippines has also said that such co-infections are not unusual. Edsel Salvana, a member of a technical advisory group to the national health department, said the country’s first covid-related death stemmed from a joint case in early 2020.Salvana told reporters that the early pandemic patient, a Chinese national, had covid-19 and influenza B, as well as streptococcus pneumonia, according to local outlet ABS-CBN.

An initial case report showed that the patient, who was the world’s first known covid-19 death outside of China, had a fever, cough and chills. “It’s an unfortunate confluence of events that you are exposed to two pathogens,” said Salvana, who reminded the public to get vaccinated for the flu and pneumonia.

Hungary has also identified at least two flurona instances in recent weeks, broadcaster RTL reported Monday. As was the case in Israel, both patients were described as about 30 years old.

And Brazil is battling an out-of-season flu outbreak just as omicron cases are starting to rise. Health officials there have confirmed six instances of flurona across three states. Rio de Janeiro’s municipal health secretary, Daniel Soranz, told Spanish news agency EFE that 17 more cases were also under investigation. In one occurrence, a 16-year-old tested positive for both viruses but had light symptoms, which his mother attributed to his being fully vaccinated against both viruses, she told Brazilian media.

Is flurona more common this year?

In Israel’s Beilinson Hospital, where doctors recently diagnosed the two pregnant women with both infections, cases of the coronavirus are rising amid the omicron outbreak along with cases of influenza A, according to Arnon Vizhnitser, the director of gynecology.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Vizhnitser said that while cases of the flu were scarce last year, perhaps because of more stringent lockdown measures and social distancing, they are roaring back.

“This year is different from last year. Now we have another challenge,”he said, predicting that co-infections would probably continue to occur.

Some countries are on track to be hit much harder by the flu this year, while strict measures to control the spread of the coronavirus appeared to have largely prevented the “twindemic” scenario in 2020.

That’s the case in the United States, which had record lows as covid surged last winter but is now seeing rising flu cases. Europe’s flu season is also just starting — and likewise expected to be worse this year.

Vizhnitser said both pregnant women had the same symptoms and were given treatment to reduce their fevers. Both were immediately placed in isolation before they eventually returned home with healthy babies. According to Vizhnitser, only one of the women had been vaccinated against the coronavirus. She had also been boosted. The other patient had not received any form of inoculation against either virus.

Pregnant patients visiting Beilinson, the Israeli hospital, are being tested for both viruses if they have symptoms on arrival. Some medical workers, along with people older than 60, in Israel, which is aggressively ramping up its vaccination program, are being offered a second booster.

Are flu and covid together more dangerous?

While many countries track coronavirus and flu cases, there appears to be little data on how many people have them at the same time. As more reports surface about co-infections, health experts and doctors stress that coronavirus and flu vaccines remain the best way to protect against severe infections.

“If you are vaccinated, the disease is very mild,” Vizhnitser said ofboth the coronavirus and flu. “Women who were not vaccinated [against the coronavirus] were very sick.”

It’s also a possibility that some patients will not be offered tests for both infections, with hospitals around the world using different approaches to treating and diagnosing patients.

What are the symptoms of flurona?

The coronavirus and influenza are respiratory infections, which can cause similar symptoms such as fever, coughing, fatigue, runny nose, sore throat and diarrhea, along with muscle and body aches. Both infections can be fatal, although the severity of each diagnosis depends largely on an individual’s immune system. Health workers, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions are more at risk for each virus.

The World Health Organization notes that the viruses are also transmitted in similar ways, through droplets and aerosols that can be passed on by coughing, sneezing, speaking, singing or breathing — which is why masking to protect others is widely encouraged by officials.

While the word is relatively new and rising in popularity, cases of flu and coronavirus co-infections are not. And flurona is not a distinct disease.

The data is telling a consistent story: Omicron is significantly milder.

‘Not the same’
The details of the Omicron variant are becoming clearer, and they are encouraging.
They’re not entirely encouraging, and I will get into some detail about one of the biggest problems — the stress on hospitals, which are facing huge numbers of moderately ill Covid-19 patients. But regular readers of this newsletter know that I try to avoid the bad-news bias that often infects journalism. (We journalists tend to be comfortable delivering bad news straight up but uncomfortable reporting good news without extensive caveats.)
So I want to be clear: The latest evidence about Covid is largely positive. A few weeks ago, many experts and journalists were warning that the initial evidence from South Africa — suggesting that Omicron was milder than other variants — might turn out to be a mirage. It has turned out to be real.
“In hospitals around the country, doctors are taking notice,” my colleagues Emily Anthes and Azeen Ghorayshi write. “This wave of Covid seems different from the last one.”
There are at least three main ways that Omicron looks substantially milder than other versions of the virus:
1. Less hospitalization
Somebody infected with Omicron is less likely to need hospital treatment than somebody infected with an earlier version of Covid.
An analysis of patients in Houston, for example, found that Omicron patients were only about one-third as likely to need hospitalization as Delta patients. In Britain, people with Omicron were about half as likely to require hospital care, the government reported. The pattern looks similar in Canada, Emily and Azeen note.
Hospitalizations are nonetheless rising in the U.S., because Omicron is so contagious that it has led to an explosion of cases. Many hospitals are running short of beds and staff, partly because of Covid-related absences. In Maryland, more people are hospitalized with Covid than ever.
“Thankfully the Covid patients aren’t as sick. But there’s so many of them,” Craig Spencer, an emergency room doctor in New York, tweeted on Monday, after a long shift. “The next few weeks will be really, really tough for us.”
The biggest potential problem is that overwhelmed hospitals will not be able to provide patients — whether they have Covid or other conditions — with straightforward but needed care. Some may die as a result. That possibility explains why many epidemiologists still urge people to take measures to reduce Covid’s spread during the Omicron surge. It’s likely to last at least a couple more weeks in the U.S.
2. Milder hospitalization
Omicron is not just less likely to send somebody to the hospital. Even among people who need hospital care, symptoms are milder on average than among people who were hospitalized in previous waves.
A crucial reason appears to be that Omicron does not attack the lungs as earlier versions of Covid did. Omicron instead tends to be focused in the nose and throat, causing fewer patients to have breathing problems or need a ventilator.
As Dr. Rahul Sharma of NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell told The Times, “We’re not sending as many patients to the I.C.U., we’re not intubating as many patients, and actually, most of our patients that are coming to the emergency department that do test positive are actually being discharged.”
In London, the number of patients on ventilators has remained roughly constant in recent weeks, even as the number of cases has soared, John Burn-Murdoch of The Financial Times noted.
3. And deaths?
In the U.S., mortality trends typically trail case trends by about three weeks — which means the Omicron surge, which began more than a month ago, should be visible in the death counts. It isn’t yet:
Data as of Jan. 3.Source: New York Times database
Covid deaths will still probably rise in the U.S. in coming days or weeks, many experts say. For one thing, data can be delayed around major holidays. For another, millions of adults remain unvaccinated and vulnerable.
But the increase in deaths is unlikely to be anywhere near as large as the increase last summer, during the Delta wave. Look at the data from South Africa, where the Omicron wave is already receding:
South Africa reported identification of Omicron on Nov. 24.Source: Johns Hopkins University
The bottom line
Given the combination of surging cases and milder disease, how should people respond?
Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore’s former health commissioner, wrote a helpful Washington Post article in which she urged a middle path between reinstituting lockdowns and allowing Omicron to spread unchecked.
It’s unreasonable to ask vaccinated people to refrain from pre-pandemic activities,” Wen said. “After all, the individual risk to them is low, and there is a steep price to keeping students out of school, shuttering restaurants and retail shops and stopping travel and commerce.”
But she urged people to get booster shots, recommended that they wear KN95 or N95 masks and encouraged governments and businesses to mandate vaccination. All of those measures can reduce the spread of Covid and, by extension, hospital crowding and death.
What about elderly or immunocompromised people, who have been at some risk of major Covid illness even if they’re vaccinated?
Different people will make different decisions, and that’s OK. Severely immunocompromised people — like those who have received organ transplants or are actively receiving cancer treatment — have reason to be extra cautious. For otherwise healthy older people, on the other hand, the latest data may be encouraging enough to affect their behavior.
Consider this: Before Omicron, a typical vaccinated 75-year-old who contracted Covid had a roughly similar risk of death — around 1 in 200 — as a typical 75-year-old who contracted the flu. (Here are the details behind that calculation, which is based on an academic study.)
Omicron has changed the calculation. Because it is milder than earlier versions of the virus, Covid now appears to present less threat to most vaccinated elderly people than the annual flu does.
The flu, of course, does present risk for the elderly. And the sheer size of the Omicron surge may argue for caution over the next few weeks. But the combination of vaccines and Omicron’s apparent mildness means that, for an individual, Covid increasingly resembles the kind of health risk that people accept every day.