Items of recent pandemic news: Survivors of severe Covid have double the odds of dying, from all causes, within a year; Minnesota’s fading Delta surge; where the Omicron variant may have come from; and more. Plus a frippery.
There is no further clarity on the crucial questions surrounding this variant: Is it more transmissible? Does it evade immunity? Does it cause more, or less, serious disease? We just have to wait for the lab work and the case counts: days to a couple of weeks.
Where did Omicron come from? (Don’t say southern Africa, that is not a sure thing. The variant was circulating in Europe at least a week before South Africa reported it.) The mystery in the origin question is deepened by noting that the predecessor strains to Omicron were circulating over a year ago, in summer 2020. Nothing like Omicron has been seen in the intervening time.
One expert puts slightly higher odds on the variant having sojourned in an animal reservoir, possibly rodents, before spilling back into humans. Others lend more credence to Omicron’s emergence in one long-infected, immunocompromised individual before spreading among the population.
So the variant’s origin is one more thing we don’t know about it.
Final word on countries reporting Omicron — As Dr. Fauci said, assume it is everywhere. Here are the countries that have confirmed at least one case of Omicron as of this writing, with changes noted since our previous update four days ago. The data are from the BNO News Omicron tracker. This list will continue to grow daily until it represents the whole world; we don’t need to detail that extended process of revealing where the variant has long been.
Green: country where once-probable cases are now confirmed
Red: country with new confirmed cases
Omicron detected in California, then Minnesota
The first two confirmed Omicron cases in the US were picked up yesterday (California) and today (Minnesota). These locales are not unexpected, as California has the most comprehensive variant surveillance system among the states and Minnesota ranks high on that list. The California case was someone who had traveled to South Africa.
As for Minnesota, a man had traveled to New York City for a conference, at which 53,000 people were said to be in attendance. (New York’s governor is now urging all of them to get tested.) The infected man had no other recent travel history. He was vaccinated and boosted. He became ill the day after the conference, on Nov. 22, tested positive Nov. 24, and no longer has symptoms. One close contact has now tested positive via antigen — not yet confirmed by PCR nor sequenced to determine if it is Omicron too.
Minnesota’s late Delta surge is fading
We are still battling the Delta wave here, but there is good reason to hope that it is waning. Earlier this week the state was number 2 for highest case acceleration rate; today Minnesota ranks 22nd among the states. The acceleration of our surge has been dropping and might reach zero tomorrow. New England states have taken over the top spots.
Severe Covid ups the odds of death from other causes
Yet one more reason, if you needed one, why you do not want to catch this virus. Recent research (paper; Guardian summary) suggests that a serious case of Covid-19 damages the body in ways that lead to a doubling of the chance of dying in the year following acute illness. In people younger than 65 the odds are even worse.
Of the post-Covid patients who died in this study, only a fifth succumbed to the kinds of complications that you might expect: respiratory or cardiovascular failures. The wide variety of causes of death in the other 80% indicates that Covid-19 damaged the overall health of these patients in multiple ways.
The lead researcher said, “Taking your chances and hoping for successful treatment in the hospital doesn’t convey the full picture of the impact of Covid-19.” Get vaccinated and get boosted when you are eligible.
Frippery: Hubble Advent
As a reward for your patience today, the frippery is The Atlantic’s annual Hubble Advent calendar — selected photos from the celebrated space telescope. Once on that page you will be offered a link to go full-screen. By all means click that. The photo at upper left is the Helix Nebula, “a dizzying look down what is actually a trillion-mile-long tunnel of glowing gases sitting about 650 light-years away.” Visit often. Twenty-three more days of Hubble porn lie ahead.