January 28, 2022

Biden: Omicron variant threatens ‘winter of severe illness and death’ for unvaccinated

As the omicron coronavirus variant makes its way across the United States, President Joe Biden seized upon the opportunity to issue a dire warning about what he envisions for the coming months, saying, “For unvaccinated we are looking at a winter of severe illness and death if you’re unvaccinated for themselves, their families, and the hospitals they will soon overwhelm,” as Fox News reports.

Though confirmed cases of the variant have grown rapidly in number over the past week, there has been a sense of cautious optimism among many public health officials that the new strain may actually be a positive development in terms of transitioning COVID-19 from pandemic to endemic status.

As Dr. Adam Koppel of Bain Capital Life Sciences explained recently, if early data on omicron prove accurate, the variant “will enable us to more quickly get to an endemic state as opposed to a pandemic state where we can live more regularly with the virus more similar to the flu than what COVID has looked like,” as the Boston Herald noted.

In South Africa, where omicron was first identified, doctors have observed that while the variant seems to spread more quickly than prior iterations of the virus, it also seems to cause less severe illness requiring fewer and shorter hospital stays, according to NPR.

Even so, those early trends have not stopped a sense of fear and foreboding from gripping certain sectors of the United States, with some universities, schools, and businesses preemptively shuttering in anticipation of a crippling wave of new infections over the coming days and weeks.

Elite universities such as Harvard and Stanford have already declared that their spring semesters will begin remotely for the majority of matriculants, and Penn State has told students to “be prepared to alter plans” if a similar decision needs to be made for their campuses, according to Fox News.

Even the famous Radio City Rockettes canceled their “Christmas Spectacular” shows due to rising COVID-19 cases and NBC’s Saturday Night Live made the decision to put on its final installment of the year staffed by only “limited cast and crew” and in the absence of its customary studio audience.

Though it remains unclear precisely how serious the arrival and proliferation of the omicron variant in the United States will prove to be in terms of added pressure on healthcare systems or with regard to widespread business closures, Biden plans to deliver an address to the nation Tuesday in which he will outline new steps his administration will take to combat the virus, according to CBS News.

In the words of an unnamed White House official, “The administration is prepared for the rising case levels, and the president will detail how it will respond to this challenge,” but whether that involves new mandates, lockdowns, or the like is something that remains to be seen.

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