Omicron Makes COVID-19 Endemic?

By James Dale Davidson
James Dale Davidson
James Dale Davidson
James Dale Davidson is a highly acclaimed economist and financial forecaster who has cemented his legacy through his renown investment newsletter Strategic Investment, which has been in publication since 1987. One of Davidson’s biggest fans include billionaire Peter Thiel, who says Davidson inspired him to start PayPal and cited Davidson as “his favorite stock picker.”
December 31, 2021 Updated: December 31, 2021

Commentary

COVID-19 is only one form of coronavirus. Other common human coronaviruses include types 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1. These usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold.

Note that the vast majority of persons who contract COVID-19 experience only mild or no symptoms.

This points to an interesting question. When will COVID-19 cease to cause a pandemic and become just another endemic virus with which human society co-exists? Soon, I believe.

There are numerous examples in the last century or more, starting with the 1918 flu pandemic. It was caused by an A/H1N1 influenza virus. More recent examples from influenza: the 1957 flu pandemic caused by an A/H2N2 influenza virus, the 1968 flu pandemic from an A/H3N2 influenza virus, and the 2009 “swine flu” pandemic from an A/H1N1 influenza virus.

These respiratory viruses were introduced into the human population, swept across the globe, and then transitioned to endemic circulation, usually with annual wintertime peaks in incidence.

The pandemics generally began with infection fatality rates higher than observed in the years following their introduction as the viruses continued to circulate. While declining fatality rates after pandemics may be due to a number of factors, one likely key contributor is evolutionary adaption by the virus. To be successful, it must be able to infect new hosts. That means more contagious variations of the virus are more successful in evolutionary terms—with the important proviso that the infections they cause must not be too deadly.

A variation of the pathogen that was rapidly and uniformly fatal would soon make the virus extinct.

The typical evolution of infection contributes to lower fatality rates. The first round of exposure to a pathogen confers some degree of protection against reinfection and severity of disease if reinfection does occur. Vaccines confer protection in much the same way, as the data from the COVID-19 vaccines have demonstrated.

So what do we know about the Omicron variety of COVID-19?

For one thing, it is more easily transmissible than the earlier versions.

Evidence confirms the widely reported conclusion that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is more contagious than earlier coronavirus strains.

Anecdotal reports point to another characteristic of the Omicron variant. It seems to be less virulent.

A Dec. 22 report on WebMD offered this encouraging summary: “People who get COVID-19 infections caused by the Omicron variant are less likely to need hospital care, compared with those infected by the Delta variant, according to two large new studies from the U.K. and South Africa.”

It could be good news that researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said Omicron could cause about 140 million new COVID-19 infections from January to March, with 60 percent of Americans infected.

Why good news? Omicron’s hospitalization rate is about 90 percent to 96 percent lower than Delta, which rampaged through much of the United States in August.

“’In the past, we roughly thought that COVID was 10 times worse than flu and now we have a variant that is probably at least 10 times less severe,” IHME director Dr. Chris Murray said told USA Today. ‘So, Omicron will probably … be less severe than flu but much more transmissible.”

Recall that we live with colds and flu without lockdowns that devastate the economy.

Another positive note came from the redoubtable Dr. Anthony Fauci. Fauci reported that the United States is considering shortening the 10-day isolation window for fully-vaccinated people infected with COVID-19.

“If you get a healthcare worker who’s infected and without any symptoms at all, you don’t want to keep that person out of work too very long, particularly if you get a run on hospital beds and the need for healthcare personal,” Fauci told CNN on Dec. 21

Similarly, professional sports leagues are considering reducing the isolation times for asymptomatic, COVID-positive athletes.

For example, the NFL announced a round of changes that include tweaks to the return-to-play protocol for COVID-positive players.

According to Yahoo Sports, the NFL’s tweaks were seen as “an initial step toward a new approach across sports. It could someday include a willingness to let athletes play through COVID. It will, at the very least, involve finding expedited routes back to fields and courts after positive tests.”

These hints suggest that the Omicron variation, far from serving as a herald of doom, may paradoxically be hinting at the end of the pandemic. We could be closer to a return to “normal life” than many markets seem to think.

James Dale Davidson is a highly acclaimed economist and financial forecaster who has cemented his legacy through his renown investment newsletter Strategic Investment, which has been in publication since 1987. One of Davidson’s biggest fans include billionaire Peter Thiel, who says Davidson inspired him to start PayPal and cited Davidson as “his favorite stock picker.”