Welcome to the Era of Omicron

I took a bit of a pause on monitoring COVID during the Delta outbreak as at some point, people seemed to be much less interested. However, I’m hearing folks with questions now that a new, more contagious variant has emerged. A recent pre-print paper (not peer reviewed yet, so might be revised in the future) shows that the omicron variant multiplies 70x faster in airways but 10x slower in lungs. This explains why the variant appears to be more contagious but less threatening than Delta. See here for a pretty good description of the findings.

Might Omicron be a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

Some reports predict that the faster-spreading variant will create more risk for humans, especially since it seems to evade the defenses from vaccinations to some degree. Others are reminding us that most pandemics end with a very virulent but less threatening variant that out-competes all of the more deadly variants. This is how the Spanish Flu ended. Hopefully the latter possibility is true, but time will tell. There are already reports from South Africa that hospitalizations (or at least severe ones requiring oxygen) are significantly down under omicron than they were during a similar period of the delta outbreak there.

Latest Data – Before the Wave from Omicron Hits

Here’s the latest data by state. I’ll include some recent state data tables later in the post for comparison’s sake. Note that the case rates have peaked up a bit in cold states over last week’s data. Perhaps this is the effect of Omicron or perhaps it’s just due to cold weather. Some states (like Arizona) have fallen down the list in the last two weeks.

State Data Table, sorted by case rate. 12/16/21

Arizona County Comparisons

Here’s a view on the death rates and case rates across the top Arizona counties by population since about June of 2020. I found it pretty interesting for comparison’s sake. I see a couple of interesting things here:

  1. Pima County, Maricopa County, and Pinal County all show nearly identical rates throughout the pandemic. Why is this interesting? Pima County — at least to my eye — has taken much more stringent public health measures than the other two counties from day one. Pinal County in particular seems to have gone out of its way to take as few public health measures as possible. But their rates and numbers are very similar (although Pinal County has fewer deaths per 1000 persons than Pima or Maricopa). What does this mean? No one knows for sure, but there is a strong indicator here that the measures we humans think will keep a virus at bay may not be very effective in the real world (vs. the lab).
  2. Yuma County had the steepest surge during the summer of 2020, but the case and death rates have been very flat ever since. This could be due to a higher vaccination rate on this border county or might even be due to natural immunity. I have no idea.
Case Rates across top AZ Counties by Population – 12/17/21
Death Rates across top AZ counties by population – 12/17/21

Older State Data Tables for Comparison

Perhaps the below will be interesting to data nerds now or in the future.

State Data Table from 12/8/21

State Data Table – 12/8/21

State Data Table from 11/30/21

State Data Table – 11/30/21

State Data Table from 11/20/21

State Data Table – 11/20/21

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