Omicron Now Accounts for Most Covid-19 Cases

omicron variant featured image

Omicron is not only the most dominant variant, it now accounts for nearly 75% of all Covid-19 cases in the U.S., according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Early indicators also show that omicron is more transmissible than the delta variant and more likely to cause reinfection, even breakthrough cases among the vaccinated.

Citing preliminary studies, vaccine makers Pfizer and BioNTech recently announced that their booster shot could prove helpful in controlling the omicron variant, offering considerable protection in the process.  

“Although two doses of the vaccine may still offer protection against severe disease caused by the [omicron] strain, it’s clear from these preliminary data that protection is improved with a third dose of our vaccine,” said Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla. 

This theory was recently substantiated by Dr. Gregory Poland, head of Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group.

“If you look after two doses of vaccine, and you wait at least three months, your protection against infection or hospitalization goes down to about 30%–40%. If you get that booster dose, in essence, a third dose, your protection against hospitalization, jumps back up to what it had been, if not higher, so about 75%–80% protection against infection and hospitalization,”

He also mentioned that the booster dose wouldn’t provide 100% protection, which is why wearing masks and social distancing is still a necessity.

Here is what we know so far about the latest Covid-19 variant:

Omicron Could Be More Transmissible than Delta 

At first, there was no clear-cut evidence that omicron was more transmissible than other Covid-19 variants like delta. That perception appears to be changing. A preliminary study showed that because the variant shares genetic code with the common cold, it could be even more infectious. Also, an early, non peer-reviewed study showed that omicron’s high transmissibility is due to its ability to multiply 70 times faster than delta.   

It is Now in Every State

As of this writing, reports indicate that omicron has hit all 50 states in less than a month.   

Preliminary Data Suggests that Omicron Produces Only Mild Illness

This is according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert. However, that conclusion is only based on preliminary and anecdotal data.

Scientists are still trying to determine its severity. In November, WHO said, “It is not yet clear whether infection with omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including delta.” 

Due to its “high number of mutations,” stated the United Nations health agency, “there could be future surges of Covid-19, which could have severe consequences.”

As of now, there is no evidence that symptoms associated with omicron differ from other variants. 

As Countries Enforce Travel Bans, African Countries Are the Most Impacted

Countries, including the U.S., are restricting travel. Japan, Israel, and Morocco have banned foreign travelers altogether, according to a New York Times report. China, Italy, Brazil, Australia and numerous others have also instituted travel restrictions. It’s worth noting that African countries appear to be most impacted by these bans, especially South African, where the variant was first reported. 

It’s worth noting that if it wasn’t for the efforts of South African scientists to expose the presence of omicron, global health authorities would not be as equipped to deal with it.

On Dec. 24, President Joe Biden’s administration announced plans to lift the U.S. travel ban on eight Southern African countries on Dec. 31, according to Reuters.

Expect More News About Omicron in the Coming Weeks

Researchers around the world are coordinating with WHO to further comprehend the nature of omicron, assessing its transmissibility and severity. We could also know a lot more about the efficacy of the vaccines against the variant. 

How a Positive Covid-19 Test Altered My Life

author photo of positive covid test story

When you think you’re about to die, your failures invariably come into focus, like unmet goals and lost connections. What looms largest, however, is all that you are about to lose. 

After testing positive for Covid-19 in mid-September, I thought the family I recently gained through marriage would be lost. 

Though vaccinated, I was fearful of the creeping, insidious nature of the virus, where you can go from feeling normal to languishing in a hospital alone and dying in a matter of days, a familiar outcome for many.

Then, a day after my positive Covid result, when my thoughts were turning to the worst possible outcome, I was granted a gift. It was a small moment that helped me look beyond a potential tragedy. 

It changed how I looked at my life, which, until that moment, I viewed as insignificant in the grand scheme – dust on the bottom of a broom. My failures as a man, husband, father, and friend would not matter quite as much afterward. 

“Though vaccinated, I was fearful of the creeping insidious nature of the virus, where you can go from feeling normal to languishing in a hospital alone and dying in a matter of days…”

That moment occurred when my wife cracked open the door to our bedroom wearing a face mask that couldn’t conceal her eyes, which were earthen, heavy, and wet. She was making a food run to a spot just minutes from our home on the Southside of Chicago. When she asked for my order, I answered her.

“A Vesuvio Italian Classic,” she said, repeating my order back to me in a voice that was low and wavering. 

I could sense her fear in those small words. The gaping hurt we shared felt as wide and breathless as the avenues that criss crossed our city. 

Refuge would arrive as a breaded chicken cutlet sandwich so large it can only be eaten with two hands. I would soon discover through prayer, recollection, and recognition that our moment offered a sustenance more ample. 

What the Virus Takes from You

Dying from Covid-19 is as harrowing and miserable as you might imagine. Few viruses have the ability to dismantle life quite like it. Over 800,000 in the U.S. and 5.3 million around the world have died from it as of this writing.

Medical experts are also predicting a winter surge of infections thanks to the Omicron variant.  

As much as we want things to get back to normal, the pandemic won’t allow it. In fact, scientists predict that the virus will be with us for a long time.

Since Covid-19 hit our shores, the majority of its victims have died in hospitals and long-term care facilities isolated and alone. Often their only human contact is with healthcare workers dressed in personal protective equipment resembling spaceship gear. Their final days, weeks, or months are rife with misery as the virus withers the lungs. 

As this Vox article points out, when people check into the emergency room for Covid, it’s because they have difficulty breathing. Patients afflicted with the virus feel as if they are sucking air through a “very narrow straw,” a sensation that can last hours, days, or even weeks.

As their lungs continue to deteriorate, they need to breathe faster and faster to get enough oxygen, panicking as they take each breath.

According to one doctor in the article, patients have complained that because of Covid-19, it feels as if their lungs are on fire or that a thousand bees are stinging them inside their chest. Some feel like they are “trying to breathe through muck” due to the thick secretions in their lungs. Others may feel as if they are being smothered.

If they are admitted to a medium or intensive care unit (ICU), they can be isolated from family and friends. In ICU, patients can develop delirium where confusion, disorientation, and incoherence can suddenly overcome them, exacerbating their symptoms and heightening their chances of death – if they haven’t already wished for it themselves. 

According to that same report, multiple doctors cite yet another tragic feature of Covid-19: the wish to die.

“You hear the patients say, ‘I just want to die because this is so excruciating,’” said one physician. “That’s what this virus does.”

When someone in this situation passes, it will likely be without having received so much as a meaningful word or kiss from a loved one. And if contact is granted, last words are often delivered via video chat through an app like FaceTime or Messenger. 

What I Finally Gained

Spending that moment with my wife over a sandwich order, something that would be so spare and mundane at any other time, meant so much more because it served as a reminder of one of my best decisions – to marry her and become a step dad to her twin teenagers.

author wedding picture before positive covid test
My wife and I got married three months before my positive Covid-19 test. Source/Photo by Yurialyse Pye

That moment provided a waterfall of memories because we jammed so much life in the three months between our nuptials and that Covid-19 result. Our honeymoon was a 1,300-mile drive from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida to Chicago where we stopped at Gainesville, Florida, Atlanta, Nashville, Louisville, and Indianapolis before we made it home.

At home, we went to jazz clubs, ate at some of the best Yelp-reviewed restaurants, and spent days walking along Lake Michigan. There were ordinary nights where we would just lay beside each other, grateful that neither of us would have to leave to fly back to our respective cities as we had in the past.  

I thought about the small gestures, like how on most mornings I would enter the kitchen to find a washed mug under the Keurig machine because she knows that I like my coffee first thing.

In the immediate aftermath of that Covid result, I thought about all of that and everything I was about to lose over and above my failures. What stood out more was that through our bond, I finally felt a sense of permanence, which eluded me most of my adult life.   

Aside from spending the first 16 years of my life in Brooklyn, New York, I would spend the next 30 living in different cities, always leaving one place for the next in search of a better opportunity or adventure, fleeing when the present location felt hostile or untenable. 

Through marriage and the establishment of family, I was about to experience what writer Wendell Berry described as a deepening of my relationship to a place and through that feeling, contentment.  

“This peace is partly in being free of the suspicion that pursued me for most of my life,” Berry once wrote, “[that] no matter where I was, that there was perhaps another place I should be, or would be happier or better in…”

I was better here in Chicago with my family, in a place that transcended geography – “home.”. 

Three months later, after experiencing mild symptoms and ultimately testing negative for Covid-19, my words fail to accurately label this feeling. 

What I can say is that this feels more concrete and expansive than contentment. While it is certainly love, I do feel as if I am on firm ground, something I have prayed for a long time. 

Whatever this thing is, it propels me, lending rhythm to my walk and a lilt to my voice. For an only child like me – disconnected, introverted, distant, and misunderstood – I discovered a place of rest. 

What I’m thankful for this holiday season is that finally I can appreciate the meaning behind that one small moment, that my life isn’t so insignificant after all. 

God granted me a second chance to fully experience two of my most meaningful accomplishments – family and connectedness.  

Finally.

Hopefully.

HIV and African Americans: Why It’s Still a Problem

hiv and african americans

On November 7, 1991, former NBA Star Magic Johnson shocked the sports world by announcing that he tested positive for HIV. He promptly retired from basketball and vowed to “battle this deadly disease.” 

“I think sometimes we think, well, only gay people can get it — ‘It’s not going to happen to me.’ And here I am saying that it can happen to anybody, even me, Magic Johnson,” he said during a press conference. 

magic johnson
Former NBA Star Magic Johnson/ Wikimedia Commons

Johnson’s revelation occurred at a time when an HIV diagnosis was thought to be a death sentence. So much so that, in the aftermath of his announcement, an NBA coach called for a moment of silence for Johnson during a game and led his players and the crowd in The Lord’s Prayer.

Now it is widely understood that with treatment, HIV-infected persons can lead healthy and successful lives. Also, it is common knowledge that anyone can contract the virus – not just gay people.  

Still, more than 30 years after Johnson’s announcement, HIV predominantly impacts African-Americans. We are contracting and dying from it at rates that surpass those of other racial and ethnic groups – just like with diabetes.

In fact, African Americans account for a higher proportion of new HIV cases compared to other races and ethnicities, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The 6 facts that follow show that, even decades later, HIV remains a viable threat to the African-American community:

African-Americans Have the Highest Rate of HIV Infection

Despite comprising 13% of the U.S. population, African Americans represented 42.1% of HIV infection cases in 2019. Of the estimated 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S., 476,100 are Black. 

Black People Still Die from HIV More Than Any Other Group

Between 2010 and 2017, the number of HIV deaths for Black people decreased by 8%. Still, they accounted for 44% of all deaths among people with an HIV diagnosis in 2017, though that also includes deaths due to any cause, according to the CDC. 

Among African-Americans, Black Gay and Bisexual Men Are Impacted Most

From 2015-2019, Black and African American men who have sex with other men accounted for more than 30% of HIV diagnoses, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). That percentage surpassed that of their White and Hispanic peers. 

Among All Women, HIV Has Hit Black Women the Hardest 

Black women as a whole made up the largest share of new HIV cases at 4,114 or 58% in 2018. At the end of 2017, they also made up the largest share of women living with HIV, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported

The Rate of New HIV Cases for Blacks Far Surpass that of White Americans

In 2018, the rate of new HIV cases for Black adults and adolescents was at 47.5 per 100,000, which is eight times that of whites and more than twice that of Latinos. 

Most HIV Cases Involve Black People in the South

The South accounts for the majority of cases involving Black people newly diagnosed with HIV (63% in 2018). It is also the region where the majority with an HIV diagnosis lived at the end of 2017 (58%).