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Amid Omicron, a 'Glimmer of Hope'

Variant slowing down in NYC, other East Coast cities, but health experts warn against premature celebration
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 13, 2022 9:20 AM CST
Amid Omicron, a 'Glimmer of Hope'
A woman gets tested for COVID-19 at a mobile testing site in New York on Tuesday.   (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

(Newser) – Is omicron at its peak? That's the latest question posed by the New York Times, and it's one bolstered by the fact that in New York City—and other places along the East Coast where the coronavirus variant made an early appearance—the number of new COVID cases appears to be flattening. "Looks like we may be cresting over that peak," New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said this week, citing the fact that case increases seem to be slowing down, as are positivity rates, especially in the Big Apple. "They're still high," she said at a Tuesday presser, per the Washington Post. "We are not at the end, but I want to say that this is, to me, a glimmer of hope ... in a time when we desperately need that." The Post notes that these developments offer "reason for cautious optimism that the turning point could be near."

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New Jersey, Maryland, and the District of Columbia have all seen their own declines in cases, and other major cities along the East Coast besides New York have seen promising signs: In Boston, for example, coronavirus levels in wastewater have dropped dramatically—about 40% since its peak at the beginning of the month. This is good news, as high levels in the past have been the precursor for high case numbers. The sudden surge in cases, followed by a steep slowdown about a month later, would also track with what's been seen in other places around the globe, like South Africa and the UK.

Still, experts note the unpredictability of the virus, and that other parts of the country are still experiencing their own surges. In the Atlantic, Katherine J. Wu also warns against an early celebration, parsing the meaning of "mild," a word that's been bandied about as applying to omicron. Wu notes that while the average case of omicron does appear to be less severe, we shouldn't downplay the potential severity of it overall on a communal level. "So many people have been infected that a relatively small percentage of medically severe cases has still erupted into an absolutely staggering number," she writes.

Wu also points out that even if people infected by omicron experience so-called mild symptoms, the COVID it spurs can potentially exacerbate other conditions in patients, lead to long COVID, and wreak havoc on schools, businesses, and hospitals. Meanwhile, Tufts Medical Center epidemiologist Shira Doron sees reason for hope on the omicron horizon, but warns that we don't fully know what will come next. "I truly believe there will be ebbs and flows and highs and lows for this pandemic for a long time to come," Doron tells the Post. (Read more omicron variant stories.)

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