If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Omicron Update Time
Here's an exclusive sneak peek into the Wonkette story selection decision tree! Is it Tuesday? Yes. Did Dok follow the news during his weekend, which includes Monday? No. Is there coronavirus news out there? Always! Well then, coronavirus update!
Here's where we are today: The rate of new cases in the US continues to be high -- averaging over 790,000 a day, but the New York Times points out that that figure is artificially low because many states didn't release data Monday due to the MLK holiday -- and hospitals in many parts of the country are overwhelmed, both by the huge number of cases and because of staff shortages. The Times also reports that "Deaths now exceed 1,900 a day, up 54 percent over the past two weeks," and that the "average number of Americans hospitalized with the coronavirus is 157,000, an increase of 54 percent over two weeks."
Intensive care units are on average 82 percent full nationwide, but in many locations they're just plain full. In Oklahoma, four hospitals report they have no ICU beds at all. The good news is that in New York City and other northeastern cities, the Omicron wave has peaked and is beginning to decline. Unfortunately, the peak for the rest of the country won't likely arrive for another few weeks. [NYT]
Fauci: Don't Bet On Omicron Ending Pandemic
In an online panel for the World Economic Forum on Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves in thinking high rates of infection with the Omicron variant will result in some kind of herd immunity to the virus (and nah, he didn't use that term, either), because there are a lot of variables to consider:
While Omicron seems to cause less severe disease than other variants, Dr. Fauci said the sheer volume of cases could have a meaningful effect on collective immunity, but added, “it is an open question as to whether or not Omicron is going to be the live virus vaccination that everyone is hoping for, because you have such a great deal of variability with new variants emerging.”
“I would hope that that’s the case,” he said, “but that would only be the case if we don’t get another variant that eludes the immune response.”
And even if widespread Omicron infections do leave people with effective antibodies against new infections, it's not clear how variable that response might be in different people, or how long it'll last. At best, it would move COVID-19 from being a pandemic disease to an endemic one, meaning it would still be circulating, but it wouldn't be as disruptive to society and the economy.
Fauci also cautioned that the world has only ever eliminated one infectious disease in history: smallpox. "That’s not going to happen with this virus," he said. [NYT]
You Can Order Free COVID Tests Starting
The Biden administration will start taking orders tomorrow for up to four free at-home COVID-19 test kits at its COVIDtests.gov website, although the administration hasn't announced a specific time for the site to go live. UPDATE: OK, it already went live today, just to make us look silly.
All you'll need is your name and a residential mailing address, no credit card, free delivery. Kits will ship within seven to 12 days of ordering, according to the White House fact sheet. Five hundred million tests will be available to start, and a White House official told reporters on a press call that the president had committed to purchase another 500 million tests on top of that.
In addition to the website, the fact sheet says the administration will launch a call line to help get tests to people who are unable to use the website, although that number apparently hasn't been announced yet.
The fact sheet also notes that other options for testing include over 20,000 free testing sites nationwide, as well as free test kits distributed to community health centers and rural health clinics. You can also check with public schools and libraries, and if you can find at-home tests at retail stores, your health insurance will cover up to eight of them a month.
The White House cautions that, as with any new online site, it's possible that heavy site traffic may cause glitches with the COVIDtests.gov site the first day or so, but we're assuming that, given the terrible publicity around the initial crashes of the Obamacare website in 2015, this sucker has been beta tested like crazy. [White House / Today].
Update: Oh, nice, the COVIDtests.gov site is actually live now. Ridiculously easy to use, ordered test kits just now.
Cruise Lines Cancelling Trips
The New York Times reports that Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises have cancelled a number of cruises because onboard outbreaks of Omicron have led to hundreds of passengers falling ill in recent weeks. It's almost as if being on a tin can with hundreds of other people and a highly contagious virus is not the greatest idea! The Times also notes that the CDC last month warned that people might want to avoid cruises, even if they're vaccinated, a warning that the cruise industry trade association at the time called "perplexing."
No word on whether the companies canceling cruises this week remain perplexed, or are exclaiming "Sokath, his eyes uncovered!" If so, Sokath is reminded to wash his hands well before touching his face. [NYT]
Australia: Bad, But Not America-Level Bad.
Australia, which is now a totalitarian state because it's aggressively trying to prevent infections, is nonetheless being hit with record case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths from the virus, although the numbers are far lower than the levels Americans have come to shrug off, because we're all insane here. Australia had 77 COVID deaths yesterday, Reuters reports, "exceeding the previous national high of 57 last Thursday, official data showed." However, as in the rest of the developed world, deaths and severe illnesses are lower among those who have had their full regular course of vaccines plus a booster shot. [Reuters]
By comparison, the New York Times reports that Indiana's seven-day average of COVID deaths was 73 as of yesterday. Australia's population is nearly 26 million, while Indiana's is 6.8 million. Hooray for freedom.
Greece: Vaccine Mandates For All 60 And Older
Greece's vaccination rate is well below that in the rest of the European Union, so on Monday it put in place mandatory vaccination for people aged 60 and up, with fines for non-compliance.
Older people failing to get vaccinated will face penalties, starting at a 50-euro ($57) fine in January and followed by a monthly fine of 100 euros ($114) after that.
The fines will be used to fund Greece's state hospital system.
Get ready for a bunch of American right-wingers to explain that Greece just doesn't understand anything about liberty or democracy, and to accuse the country of trying to promote euthanasia, because isn't that a Greek word anyway? And why is the Greek alphabet being used for all these variants, huh? Then the wingnuts can all have a nice freakout over the fact that Greece's health minister is named "Thanos Plevris." [NPR]
In unrelated news, Hong Kong will be euthanizing some 2,000 small animals in pet shops, including all hamsters, after coronavirus was detected in a shipment of the animals from the Netherlands. Make your own terrible Hamsterdam puns now. And all the hamsters in Hong Kong are asking, "What have I done to deserve this?"
Transmission of the virus from humans to animals is rare, but has been documented by the CDC. There's less evidence to suggest we can get it from pets. [CNN]
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.