A Winters Express opinion column
By Richard Casavecchia
Special to the Express
Allow me to regale you with a story that harkens back to one month PCP (Pre-COVID Pandemic). When science was less political. Way back when data ruled the day and individual health choices weren’t treated as collective public business eliciting chastisement, criticism and “othering.”
When the Omicron variant first burst on the scene, I saw a Johns Hopkins professor named Dr. Marty Makary, confused by our top public health official saying we still needed to see if the vaccines protected against the variant. His confusion was rooted in knowledge that the answer could be had in 12 hours by a routine lab test to determine if the vaccines prevent the Omicron spike protein from bonding with our cells. Government scientists eventually took weeks to confirm this.
On Dec. 15, a study out of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) School of Public Health was published and is now pending peer review. Initial findings are that Omicron replicates 70 times faster than the Delta variant of COVID-19, but the replication is less efficient in deep lung tissues, resulting in less severe symptoms in most patients. The authors highlighted that the immunocompromised are still at risk.
The HKU study looked at vaccine effectiveness as well. Neither the Pfizer nor Chinese vaccines produced enough antibodies to ward against Omicron. A study out of Israel suggested that not even four vaccine shots resulted in sufficient antibody production to stave off infection.
Public health officials, being the one trick pony riders that they have become, are predictably using Omicron and the new so-called “Stealth Omicron” variant to reinforce their mask push, data be damned. Still, they persist.
Vaccines will not set us free.
As I covered in my column the other month, the presumed effectiveness against Delta will likely be lessened via the decreased time to infection with Omicron. The situation changed and, once again, the masks are pointless in many situations.
Whereas with Delta we saw peak protection against spread for interactions lasting between 5 to 15 minutes, covering most casual day to day interactions, Omicron’s shorter exposure time reduces that 1 to 3 minutes. We rarely have interactions that fall in that range unless no one is in line at the store.
Last week, Johns Hopkins stated that their studies show lockdowns had no effect on COVID deaths, but lockdowns did impose enormous economic and social costs. The mantra of people who cling to these restrictions has often been “If we can save just one life, it’s worth it.” Well, we didn’t, and it wasn’t.
This seems obvious both now, and if you examine the full scope of the available data, as early as July 2020.
Locally, COVID-positive hospitalizations peaked at 27.
Once again, contrary to public health warnings and the Chicken Littles in the “Covid-19 Yolo Community Response’’ Facebook group clucking that the sky is falling, no sky fell. Hospitals were not overwhelmed and no one that we know of has died in the streets waiting for a hospital bed. It is worth noting that in New York, nearly half of the reported COVID hospitalizations were caused by something other than COVID-19 and the positive test was incidental. I would bet that there is similar overlap here in Yolo County, too.
Risk cannot be measured by case counts.
By the CDC numbers, Omicron cases were 2.46 times more numerous than Delta cases over a similar four-month span. Incident Fatality Rate (IFR) of Delta is only two-thirds that of Alpha, and the Omicron IFR is two-fifths that of Delta.
From Alpha to Omicron, we have a 75 percent reduction in the death rate. We can squabble over if it’s due to mutations, vaccines, or therapeutics, but the current risk of an individual dying with COVID is barely above zero.
The usual response to information about declining death rates is to raise the issue of so-called “Long COVID,” but no doctor or study has yet been able to measure or confirm its existence with any test. Presently, it is a self-reported condition.
“Follow the science” has, on both sides of the debate, has been “Follow the politics.” Supervisor Jim Provenza of Davis said this quiet truth out loud at a recent county meeting: “My experience, when we didn’t have the current rule — which my constituents like — was that the unvaccinated people were the ones not wearing the masks, and vaccinated people were.”
If we are truly following the science, the preferences of voters are irrelevant.
We seem to have been pursuing a “Zero COVID” policy, akin to Chinese national health policy. Some proponents of this approach seem unwilling to accept any non-zero risk. Presuming these are also people who get into an automobile, assuming the very real risks involved with that activity, their inconsistency in risk assessment related to COVID is irrational, unrealistic, and we need to stop letting these people drive the discussion. We should already be well on the way to the road back to normal, as far as the government is concerned.
Smarter people than I, actual scientists and some public health professionals, have asserted that there is likely nothing we can do to prevent the spread of Omicron, and the real risk is negligible anyways. Arguably not enough to disrupt progress in child education and the economy.
Thankfully, fewer people are engaging in health theater. Can our leaders start the process toward normalization already?