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Omicron by the numbers

Quantifying this year’s least popular holiday guest.

Travelers waiting in line to get COVID-19 tests at a pop-up clinic at Los Angeles International Airport.
Travelers waiting in line to get COVID-19 tests at a pop-up clinic at Los Angeles International Airport.

There’s no getting around it: this year’s holiday theme is “Omicron on Ice.” If you’re looking for a last-minute gift idea, and you can’t get your hands on any Ivermectin Pez dispensers or eggnog-scented N95s, here’s a little stocking stuffer for you: omicron-by-the-numbers.

The digital, scientific name for what the World Health Organization eventually christened the omicron variant.

Nov. 9, 2021
The birthdate of the oldest specimen containing the omicron variant. South African researchers reported a new SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.529 to the World Health Organization on Nov. 24th, but when they tested older specimens, Nov. 9 was this mutant’s “birthday.”

The number of Sars-CoV-2 variants — including omicron — that have circulated in the U.S. Alpha and delta have been the dominant strains

30 and 15
Number of mutations in the omicron spike protein, and number of those in the area that specifically binds to the host cell. I like to compare the COVID spike protein with R2-D2’s scomp link — the robotic arm with a rotating tip that the celebrity droid used to interface with the security and operating systems of enemy ships. (Who could forget R2 deactivating Garbage Compactor 3263827?) It’s unclear which or how many of these mutations are of any consequence. Some of them must be a hit, or omicron wouldn’t be hard-charging into the headlines. 

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0.7, 13 and 73
Omicron’s percentage share of the COVID market for each of the last three weeks. That’s according to the CDC’s Nowcast model, which estimates more recent proportions of circulating variants

Double, and one-third
Level of protection against omicron infection effectively increased by a booster vs. two Pfizer doses, according to a small British study. Even so, when the CDC reviewed 43 of the earliest omicron cases in the U.S., a third occurred in boosted individuals

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47 and 95
How many U.S. states and how many countries have detected omicron. Very likely the real number is closer to “everywhere,” even though “everywhere” is not a number. How long can South Dakota and Oklahoma remain omicron-free, and how hard are they looking? 

Omicron’s “R0” — how many people the average infected patient passes the virus on to, as measured in South Africa. Omicron’s R0 makes it twice as transmissible as delta was this summer

The British government’s estimate of the current vaccine effectiveness (booster included) against symptomatic illness with omicron

The number of companies (BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) working on an omicron-specific vaccine.

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79 and 41
The percentage of Minnesota hospitals that have no open adult ICU beds, and the percentage that have no open adult non-ICU beds. If you get sick over Christmas, you might end up staying in a manger.

31 and 18
The percentage of health care professionals who have considered quitting during the pandemic — and the number who actually did. 

73, 61, 30 and 27
The percentage of U.S. adults who have had at least one vaccine dose (“partially vaccinated” 73%), or have had two doses (“fully vaccinated” 61%), or who have received a booster (30%), or who have not received any vaccination (27%).

The number of people out of every 100,000 fully vaccinated individuals who end up in the hospital with a “breakthrough” COVID infection, as of October. 

The number of people out of 100,000 unvaccinated individuals who end up in hospitals with a COVID infection. And the risk of dying from COVID was 0.4 out of 100,000 for the fully vaccinated and 5 out of 100,000 for the unvaccinated. 

Estimated percentage of people in the U.S. who have been infected with any strain of SARS-CoV-2

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