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Against Panic: Slow the Spread of Fear Over Omicron Variant

Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via AP

Ever since the breathless and frantic news reports over the South African variant – quickly renamed the Omicron variant, after Nu and Xi were skipped for clarity and politics, respectively – first emerged, I've been mulling over a few key questions: (1) Is it more contagious than previous variants, including Delta? (2) Is it more serious or virulent than previous variants? (3) Do our existing vaccines offer protection against it? I'm not sure we have bulletproof answers to any of those questions yet, but that hasn't stopped some of our expert class from raising the specter of new mitigation mandates, including the possibility of lockdowns. The media, ever eager to stoke fear on this front, did their usual thing. And the not-insubstantial group of neurotic people who seem to almost enjoy performative and self-righteous COVID fear leapt into this latest round with gusto. Much more data will be needed to reach any definitive conclusions about the important questions listed above, but while it's understandable why scientists have been alarmed by what they've seen from Omicron, some of the initial real-world outcomes are actually relatively encouraging: 

The clip above isn't just from a random South African doctor. It's from the chair of the South African Medical Association who discovered the Omicron Variant. She's been saying this sort of thing for days, noting in an interview over the weekend that the Omicron cases she's treated have been "different and so mild" compared to other cases.  Allahpundit also flags another potentially-heartening development: 

Cases in South Africa have risen rapidly this week but one health official said yesterday that there’s been no uptick in hospitalizations. If Omicron really is so hyper-contagious that it’s able to out-compete Delta, it seems strange that it took two months to generate a major outbreak and still hasn’t produced a spike in people needing emergency care. Maybe that’s just a byproduct of the variant spreading mainly among younger people so far, as they’re always less likely to need hospital care from COVID. But it could also be that Omicron is less virulent than Delta, which would be wonderful news.

To recap, doctors are seeing mild cases in South Africa and Israel, the variant may be spreading less rapidly and easily than other variants, and hospitalizations have not increased in the country that is believed to be ground zero for Omicron. Perhaps the lagging indicator of hospitalizations and deaths will hit South Africa like a ton of bricks (there is some data arriving that shows a hospitalization uptick in SA's "ground zero" area, but the news is mixed) – but it's been quite a lag already. And keep in mind that South Africa is much, much less heavily vaccinated than we are in the United States. Perhaps more information will come to light, including terrible results, that will justify at least some of the early panic. Or perhaps this freakout was far too much, far too soon.  Revisiting my three questions, the correct answers are "we don't know yet," across the board.  However, the first answer is looking mixed, the second answer is looking pretty clearly encouraging, and the third answer also appears to be coming down firmly on the side of a non-emergency. A top US official believes our existing vaccines likely provide at least some protection against Omicron (which, again, may be less severe than previous variants anyway), and vaccine manufacturers are all over it, regardless. There is some data suggesting that perhaps the vaccines and even natural immunity aren't as effective at defeating this variant, but it's all very preliminary. In short, take a breath. Meanwhile, check out this map: 

Florida, which got brutalized by Delta over the summer, is now well past its seasonal peak, and is currently the safest place in America on COVID spread. Florida is seeing its lowest COVID hospitalizations since April 2020. The state's vaccination rate is pretty strong overall, which helped stave off even more misery a few months ago, but it was still very bad. Now the virus has moved on to other seasonal hotspots, and cases have plummeted, "despite" Florida's famous lack of mandates on masks, vaccines, etc. If the media was blaming Gov. Ron DeSantis for bad outcomes in the teeth of the seasonal surge, will they credit him now? Or does that game only flow one way? It's a rhetorical question – as is the question of whether they'll apply intense blame on blue state governors presiding over major case and hospitalization spikes as the weather gets colder.

Finally, as Dr. Fauci revives his insufferable "I Am The Science" schtick, let's check in on his infamous buddy. This guy is a Fauci ally who spent a lot of energy trying to bury the lab leak theory, famously thanking Fauci for helping him do so in an email. He was also the conduit for alleged US funding of gain-of-function research, which Fauci continues to swear didn't happen, while still acting credulous about the increasingly implausible "naturally occurring" theory. I'm no expert, but this seems fairly smoking-gun-ish, does it not? 

He said this in 2016. I saw this clip for the first time yesterday. Is the press at all curious about any of it? It's only an apparent major clue about the origins of a pandemic-level virus that has killed millions of people around the world. And before you go, please take a moment to recall that even suggesting that the lab leak theory was legitimate was deemed "misinformation" by our "experts" and gatekeepers for months on end. 

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