COVID-19 & Omicron:

Rob Wallace talks about

Rebellion as Intervention

January 14, 1:00-2:30 pm EDT

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Firoze Manji will speak with Rob Wallace about his excellent article on Patreon: "Don't look up...COVID's infectious period" available at https://bityl.co/AOvI. An excerpt from his article is shown below.

The Omicron variant is everywhere. It isn't the only variant in the mix. The crisis is growing to unprecedented proportions. The response of governments is underwhelming, obsessed as they are to prioritizing profiteering over people's health. Workers on the frontlines of health care, services, manufacturing, abd those living or working in overcrowded conditions, are simply being left to suffer or die.

Racism prevails. There is international apartheid but also domestic apartheid prevailing in many countries. Testing and vaccinations are necessary but completely insufficient, while healthcare systems that have long been underfunded or privatized are facing collapse. Analyses and criticisms are equally necessary but insufficient a response. What can be done? What forms of resistance and rebellion can bring about change?

Don't look up...COVID's infectious period

The deaths of denialists do not ratify the decisions those still living made as good calls. The deceased, even those radically opposed to standard public health, aren't worthy of a Darwin Award, to reference a tongue-in-cheek competition of real-life stories about people killing themselves accidentally in spectacularly dumb ways. Against the bumper sticker, reality does not have a liberal bias, in the sense that the nature of things doesn't just embody the operative presumptions of Manhattan's gentrified Upper West Side.

The Omicron variant is everywhere in the U.S. at this point. Last Wednesday the U.S. registered a world-record 484,377 COVID cases, topping it again with 512,500, 647,067, and, including reports from over the weekend, over a million the following Monday. 

Many Americans who hadn't gotten COVID before are getting it now. And many previously infected or vaccinated (or both) are getting infected too. Three million new cases or one in hundred Americans in just a week.

Omicron isn't the only variant in the mix. Delta and others still churn on. But Omicron's molecular biology – marked by multiple amino acid replacements in the spike protein's receptor binding domain and furin cleavage site, the nucleocapside protein's N-terminal domain and serine/arginine-rich linker region, and a deletion in the nonstructural protein 1 – has evolved in such a way that the new variant is much more infectious. This virus largely attacks receptors in the upper airway and less in the chest, making the turnaround time in transmission much shorter.

Declarations that we needn't worry – a nose-and-throat Omicron isn't as deadly as previous variants – miss the point, conflating, in what is now a pandemic staple, public health and individual outcomes. A variant with a lower case fatality rate can kill many more people if the virus's attack rate approaches the whole population and its doubling time speeds up. The Delta variant doubled in infections every two to three weeks. Omicron is doubling every two to three days. 

The number of Americans hospitalized with COVID topped 103,000 Monday, the highest level in a year and rapidly approaching the record of 130,000 when vaccines weren't available. U.S. deaths are clocking in over a thousand a day, with weekly deaths no less than 5000 since September.

Treatment options have also narrowed. On the virus's end, Omicron has evolved around two monoclonal antibody therapies: bamlanivimab and casirivimab. Previous COVID infection offers little natural antibody protection against Omicron. All the variants together are slowly evolving vaccine resistance, even, as we will return, vaccines presently remain effective against hospitalization.

On our end, where humans control things, treatment effectiveness declines when ERs and ICUs are overloaded with new cases. That failure of capacity is a conscious decision. As one nurse put it, "Don’t use euphemisms like “hospital beds” when what you actually mean is nursing staff. The hospitals have not run out of furniture." Beyond hospitals, the early pandemic polices aimed at "flattening the curve" and preserving hospital capacity—banning gatherings, mask mandates, and bar and restaurant closures—are now long abandoned. More on Patreon

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