Well, so much for those “Omicold” claims about the Omicron variant. The Omicron variant of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is certainly not the same as the common cold. While the jury’s still out on how virulent the Omicron variant may be, this new variant is proving that it can hospitalize and kill people, which is not what the common cold does. Today, the U.K. Health Security Agency reported that there have already been seven deaths and 85 hospitalizations related to the Omicron variant in the U.K. as of December 16.
Seven deaths is six more than what had been reported by the U.K. Health Security Agency the day prior and what Robert Hart had reported on for Forbes five days ago on December 13. So the chances of this number staying at seven are pretty darn low. Seven deaths may also be seven more than what you might expect with just the common cold.
According to the same report, the U.K. has had 24,968 confirmed Omicron variant cases as of 6 pm on December 17. That’s a 10,059 case change from the tally in the previous day’s report, which is a Dogecoin-esque rise. Before you start calculating any case fatality rates from these numbers, though, keep in mind that confirmed hospitalizations and deaths will lag case counts in time. This ain’t like the video game Minecraft where everyone’s head resembles a carboard box and deaths and other outcomes are immediately registered. Instead, it will take time for various Covid-19 outcomes to evolve and be reported.
Now it’s still not clear whether the Omicron variant may be less or equally likely to cause severe outcomes such as hospitalization and death compared to the Delta variant. It’s been less than a month since the Omicron was first detected in South Africa, as I reported for Forbes. More time, studies, and data are needed. So take any declaration that you hear about how strong or weak this variant may be with a fanny pack and 10 Ugg boots full of salt.
But lack of data and scientific information hasn’t prevented some from making premature declarations, claiming that the Omicron variant is milder and weaker. And as with other things that are premature, this can leave a mess and people disappointed and confused.
For example, Marty Makary, MD, MPH, a Professor of Surgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who specializes in pancreatic surgery, said the following on Thursday’s episode of the “Brian Kilmeade Show,” a FOX News Radio show: “We’re seeing this massive new wave of fear that is fueling our second pandemic after Covid-19, which is a pandemic of lunacy, which is omicron. Now I call it omi-cold.”
OK, time out. Why was Makary calling the current pandemic “our second pandemic after Covid-19?” Does one need to consult the Count von Count from Sesame Street on this matter? If you count the number of Covid-19 pandemics since early 2020, you can start with the one where everyone began hoarding toilet paper. Then there was that pandemic where political leaders kept saying that the pandemic was “rounding the corner,” which was the basically the same pandemic as the first pandemic. And, oh, if you throw in the pandemic that’s happening right now, you have a grand total of, let’s see, one plus zero plus zero is one: one pandemic.
When exactly did that first original Covid-19 pandemic ever end? Did scientists, public health officials, medical doctors, and countries around the world somehow miss the memo? Was the memo perhaps written on toilet paper and then hoarded by someone? At no point since March 2020 has anyone with any real knowledge in the field declared the Covid-19 pandemic over.
Nevertheless, Makary went on to insist that the Omicron variant, “stays superficial in the nose and bronchus. So that’s why we’re seeing a common cold-like illness.” He added, “This new scientific data from the lab explains the epidemiological data and the bedside observation of doctors that this is far more mild… and that’s why I call it omi-cold.”
The following tweet includes a video of Makary using the same term “omi-cold” or “omicold” on a FOX News segment:
Calling the Omicron variant “omicold” may sound cute and all, a bit like rearranging the letters to spell “moronic.” But it is still too early to make such definitive statements about the Omicron variant. Eric Topol, MD, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, tweeted out preliminary findings from researchers at Imperial College London that found “no evidence” that the Omicron variant is less severe than the Delta variant:
And Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, the Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, warned against prematurely claiming that the Omicron variant is milder:
One thing’s for sure. The SARS-CoV-2 is not just like the common cold. The common cold typically does not land people in the hospital and kill them, unless you’ve somehow shoved way too many tissues up your nose. You don’t hear that many people complaining about having “long cold,” suffering persistent symptoms for months.
Being concerned about the Omicro variant and taking proper precautions are not the same thing creating panic or fear, as Makary seemed to suggest. Real public health experts have never said, “OK, time for everyone to panic. Raise your hands above your head, wave your arms like you are doing jazz arms, start running, and scream.” The emergence of the Omicron variant is not an unexpected disaster such as the cancellation of the TV series NCIS: New Orleans. No, it’s a reminder that everyone should be doing what they should have done before the Omicron emergence: get vaccinated, wear face masks when in public close to others, practice social distancing, keep the air in public areas well-ventilated, and maintain other established Covid-19 precautions.
One of the biggest tragedies of this pandemic has been politicians, TV personalities and others continuing to downplay the threat of the pandemic and urging everything to just “return to normal.” For example, back in September 2020, I covered for Forbes how some were still trying to minimize the Covid-19-related death count. That was when deaths in the U.S. had just topped 200,000. Well, about 600,000 deaths in the U.S. later, nothing’s really changed in that regards. Some still are pushing for the “do nothing” approach, which in the end will do exactly that: nothing.