Evidence indicates Omicron is more contagious but less severe

The Omicron coronavirus variant is all the rage right now. But evidence indicates that there is very little need for panic, as this variant appears to be less severe than the Delta variant.

As the Chicago Tribune reports,

U.S. health officials said Sunday that while the omicron variant of the coronavirus is rapidly spreading throughout the country, early indications suggest it may be less dangerous than delta, which continues to drive a surge of hospitalizations.

President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CNN’s “State of the Union” that scientists need more information before drawing conclusions about omicron’s severity.

Reports from South Africa, where it emerged and is becoming the dominant strain, suggest that hospitalization rates have not increased alarmingly.

“Thus far, it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it,” Fauci said. “But we have really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe or it really doesn’t cause any severe illness, comparable to delta.”

Generally, scientists agree that mutations make a pathogen less dangerous. This is essentially due to the fact that viruses need their hosts alive in order to survive — hence the mutation.

Evidence from a study in Cambridge suggests that this variant “appears to have added part of the genetic material of a common-cold virus, which could explain both its easy spread and its apparent mildness,” a point that the director of U of M’s Center for Infections Disease Research and Policy touched on.

Michael Osterholm, the director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, joined host Cathy Wurzer to discuss. He said the evidence so far suggests omicron may be more transmissible than delta, but it might not make people as sick — perhaps due to genetic information that omicron picked up from another virus that causes the common cold in humans

What this means for Minnesota

While hospitalizations are currently high, they are still well below the pandemic’s peak in late 2020. And if Omicron proves less severe (even while infecting more individuals), hospitalizations will likely drop. Deaths are also likely to drop.

Certainly, this is not to say individuals should not take their own precautions, like getting vaccinated.

But all in all, growing evidence indicates that there is very little reason for our leaders to spread fear or for Minnesotans to panic due to Omicron.