The 7-day average case rate in Easthampton rose to 81.2 cases per day per 100,000 population, with 5.5% of tests among Easthampton residents coming back positive. Easthampton is in the "red" category of transmission, for the first time since January 2021. As far as I can tell, this is a record high for Easthampton since the start of the pandemic. The case rate is up in Hampshire county and Hampden county again, too - Hampden county is in the "red" category of transmission.
Unfortunately, new cases last week and the total number of active cases right now indicate that we're unlikely to see a large improvement in the case rate next week. Keep in mind that this data reflects COVID-19 activity from Sunday 12/5 through Saturday 12/11. All to say, there is every reason to believe that the level of COVID-19 circulating in our community today (Monday 12/20) is quite high. These are the days to wear the best quality mask you have to protect yourself and to protect your community. This is not the time to loosen up on any of the ways you've been reducing your risk of infection. Some people (those who are unvaccinated, those who are high-risk, and those who are immunocompromised) may consider more careful risk reduction strategies starting now, if they haven't already.
We are concerned about three things related to the omicron variant, as discussed in prior weeks: 1) is it more infectious?, 2) is it more severe?, and 3) does it evade immunity?
1) Is the omicron variant more infectious? Yes. Without a doubt. I see numbers all over the place estimating how much more infectious the omicron variant is than the delta variant. I'm sure you've noticed the estimates are all different! This doesn't mean they're (all) wrong - they're reporting on different aspects of transmission. I find the reproduction rate (Rt or "R naught") to be the most helpful real-world indicator of how infectious a variant is. On that scale, omicron is something in the range of 3-5 times more infectious than delta. That means one person with the delta variant infected 1-2 other people, while one person with the omicron variant will probably infect something like 3-10 other people. Very very contagious.
2) Is the omicron variant more severe? We don't know yet. This is an incredibly unsatisfying answer. Real-world data is indicating that it's not obviously more severe than disease caused by the delta variant - this is good! In some locations that have hospital data, that are further along in an omicron variant surge, there is data to indicate that fewer people are being hospitalized. We do not yet have the ability to understand if this is because many people have some prior immunity (from the vaccine or infection) or if this variant truly causes more mild disease. It will be a few weeks more before we have enough information to tell. Even if the omicron variant causes disease that's equally severe or slightly less severe than the delta variant, the huge increase in cases in our country is big trouble. Disease caused by the omicron variant would have to be far far FAR less severe than the delta variant for this upcoming (predicted) surge to not cause a huge amount of stress on our healthcare system. We already know it is not far, far, FAR less severe. In other words, we can expect to see our hospitals fill. The question is if the healthcare system can handle the surge (and bend) or if the surge will break the system and cause rationing of care. It's a scenario no one likes to imagine or discuss. The very best way for us to avoid this situation is to avoid getting infected as much as we possibly can.
3) Does the omicron variant evade immunity? Yes. We have evidence to indicate that those who were previously infected have little protection against the omicron variant and the risk of reinfection is high. We also have evidence to indicate that those who are "fully" vaccinated without a booster are also at substantial risk of reinfection, but that those illnesses are likely to be mild. Those who are fully vaccinated and have a booster dose have fairly high protection from both infection and very high protection against severe illness. Those who are fully vaccinated and boosted have are as protected from omicron as they were from delta when they were "just" vaccinated (and not yet boosted), if that helps to re-frame how effective the vaccines still are. In other words, the vaccines are still very very good, and it's not too late to get vaccinated or boosted.
I'm including visuals from a few weeks ago to highlight how much protection the vaccines offer: those who are fully vaccinated are less likely to be infected and far less likely to be severely ill. I'm also including a visual of the descriptive breakdown of cases in Easthampton this week.
As always, I will answer your questions in the comments below to the best of my ability.