Update on Omicron wave in South Africa, potentially good implications for the U.S.

The Omicron wave in South Africa is now winding down, and a true picture of the impact of this variant disease can be assessed.

Overall, in South Africa cases peaked at about 117% higher than the Delta peak, but hospitalizations were only 63% of the Delta peak. Encouragingly, deaths peaked at only 20% of the Delta peak suggesting that the virus is less lethal or that prior infection waves or vaccines may have limited deaths.

Importantly, in Gauteng province, where the variant was first discovered, the wave is complete. When compared to Delta, Omicron was responsible for 90% of infections, but only 10% of deaths. Again, the data looks very encouraging as infections are almost back to baseline.

Omicron wave identified by the red arrow.

Importantly, the excess deaths due to the Omicron outbreak of COVID-19 are resolved. Total numbers of deaths observed in the province were much less than those seen in prior COVID surges, despite the number of infections.

Seven day average COVID-19 infection numbers in the United States. Current numbers of infection are almost three times the prior peak from last winter. New York Times.

In the U.S. similar patterns are emerging with initial observations of much milder disease from Omicron infection. There has been explosive growth in infections with current numbers almost three times the prior peak from last winter.

Despite this, deaths have barely budged, rising only 11% in the last two weeks. Hospitalizations are up 50% from pre-surge levels, and while this is straining health care resources, it would have been a total disaster if it were a Delta variant like surge.

Given these data, it is likely that U.S. Omicron cases will fall as quickly as they have risen and will result in proportionally fewer hospitalizations and deaths. All of this is good news, as we can hope for a quick end to this.

The one caveat is that we have a much larger population than South Africa, and a large population of people that have neither been vaccinated nor infected. This population could lead to a prolongation of Omicron infections here and result in more deaths in these at risk individuals (since death is the trailing indicator).

So, while this is all encouraging news we shouldn’t start celebrating yet….

Published by jbakerjrblog

Immunologist, former Army MD, former head of allergy and clinical immunology at University of Michigan, vaccine developer and opinionated guy.

7 thoughts on “Update on Omicron wave in South Africa, potentially good implications for the U.S.

  1. Thought you might like to see this so you get an idea of what’s happening and what this Dr. thinks is the future for omicron.

    On Mon, Jan 10, 2022 at 8:52 AM Pandemic Pondering wrote:

    > jbakerjrblog posted: ” The Omicron wave in South Africa is now winding > down, and a true picture of the impact of this variant disease can be > assessed. Overall, in South Africa cases peaked at about 117% higher than > the Delta peak, but hospitalizations were only 63% of ” >

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  2. Very encouraging!

    I would also suggest that the US case numbers are vastly underreported due to lack of convenient testing, poor reporting on home test results, and decision by many (myself) that catching a ‘cold’ does not necessarily warrant a Covid test since I don’t know what difference it would make whether a positive or negative result was obtained (since I’ve been vaccinated and have Covid and despite being over 65yrs I am in good health and don’t consider myself to be at risk of a serious consequence). So the ratios of case numbers to hospitalizations and deaths are probably a serious overestimation of actual risk. Dr. Baker, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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  3. This is a quote from a NPR article I looked up after someone told me the Omiron could be a lab leak:

    “It doesn’t tie into anything that was circulating more recently,” says Bedford.” Yet its mutations put it a long way from that 2020 strain.

    How to explain this?

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    1. Nature is much more efficient at creating variants that lab researchers. Most of these changes would never have been envisioned by rational design algorithms or any capabilities anyone currently employs. The best explanation is millions of unvaccinated, virus naive individuals acting as incubators for new variants!

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  4. Dear Dr. jbakerjrblog,
    Thank you so much for this helpful information. I totally agree with you and I would like to add another factor the age of the population in South Africa is younger than in the U.S. and this could affect the shorter wave in South Africa. In addition the protocol of testing changes in south Africa to only symptomatic peoples.

    Liked by 1 person

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