An Omicron Hypothesis

 

Omicron doesn’t kill people nearly as much as earlier variants of Covid. But does it kill people much at all? Not long ago, you could look at global data or country-specific data for places that have a lot of cases of Omicron at Worldometer and see something interesting: Despite epic spikes in the case numbers, deaths were fewer than for any previous spike.

That seems like it would be a big deal: The rates skyrocketing in these Omicron waves with the death numbers falling in absolute terms and the death rates plummeting dramatically.

But deaths are a lagging indicator, and we needed a few more weeks to confirm that Omicron is killing fewer people overall despite its massive transmissibility.  And we still need a few weeks.

It sure looks good in the UK: The Omicron wave seems to be receding, and the death numbers are nowhere near the numbers for the last wave.  Likewise South Africa, ahead of the UK.  And in some other places that appear to be a bit earlier in the Omicron wave, it sure looks promising.  TurkeyItalyBrazil.

Enter the USA: If I’m reading this chart right, death rates look like they’re just about to pass the Delta wave death rates.

Dang.

So maybe Omicron is still killing people, and killing them in numbers enough that its dominance is not a good thing in absolute terms: massive transmission rates, massive case numbers, much lower death rate, and still more deaths overall.

Or . . . maybe not that exactly.

Suppose for a moment that the way things look just now is the way they are: In the UK and South Africa, Omicron killed fewer people than any previous version of the virus, even while spreading to more people and, conveniently, giving them the best immunity so far; but in the USA it actually killed more people!

Why would that be?

Is it because the USA has a lower vaccination rate?  Not likely.  Check the NY Times vaccination tracker: In the second-dose and third-dose numbers, the UK is significantly leading the US, but it only leads 78 percent to 75 percent in first-dose numbers.  More importantly, South Africa’s rates are much lower than the USA.

But here’s something that fits that data, something that the USA has more of than either the UK or South Africa:

America is a very fat country.

So here is an Omicron hypothesis for your consideration: Maybe Omicron has massive transmission rates and case numbers, a much lower death rate, and lower deaths overall–except for where obesity rates are high.

If that’s the truth, things are still worse than I’d hoped.  But still a lot better than they were.

But I don’t know what’s true.  We could look at the numbers over the next few weeks and compare them to this Wikipedia chart of countries by obesity rates: Find countries with obesity rates comparable to the USA, wait until their Omicron waves come and go, and then look over the death rates.  And watch various countries now having Omicron spikes, see if they follow the pattern of the UK and South Africa, and then check to see if they are significantly less obese than the USA.

In the meantime, and speaking of not knowing things, I don’t know how the CIA figures out obesity rates; but that’s where the Wikipedia chart comes from–the CIA World Factbook.  And I don’t know if the USA is overreporting in some way that makes its data largely useless–deaths with Covid reported as deaths from Covid, that sort of thing.

And I didn’t know, in a previous post drawing in part from Worldometer numbers, how much the case rates were going to go up and down again and again and again.  (An updated post, including a partial retraction of the earlier one, is in the works.)

Hello, my name is Socrates, and I don’t know anything.  But here is a plausible hypothesis about Omicron.  What do you think?

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  1. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Always count on the philosopher to ask unanswerable questions.

    Well done.

    • #1
  2. Nohaaj Coolidge
    Nohaaj
    @Nohaaj

    Obesity has always been a significant factor in re covid attributed deaths.  @jacobhyatt  has posted here about those correlations and causations, along with many others who posted with similar data (perhaps with less significant scientific analysis).  

    Yeah, I sit here a few stone overweight, recovering from OhMyGawd™ variant, knowing I should do more push-aways*  and fast a bit more…

    Push-aways are defined as getting up from the eating surface with an abrupt and sure motion. “push away” 

     

    • #2
  3. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    What is Greek for “We are being had”?

    • #3
  4. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Or, . . . and hear me out here . . . the numbers we’re given in the U.S. are completely bogus.

    • #4
  5. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf (View Comment):

    Or, . . . and hear me out here . . . the numbers we’re given in the U.S. are completely bogus.

    Completely. Absolutely. All 240 million people are in on the scam, except you and me. 

    • #5
  6. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Or maybe those collecting the death statistics are flat lying. There are benefits that accrue to the public health establishment in the US for high numbers of Covid deaths. At this point the Federal government has become so corrupt I don’t trust it. If omicron isn’t causing deaths in the rest of the world I doubt it is causing deaths in the US. I believe we are being lied to.

    • #6
  7. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf (View Comment):

    Or, . . . and hear me out here . . . the numbers we’re given in the U.S. are completely bogus.

    Completely. Absolutely. All 240 million people are in on the scam, except you and me.

    It’s one way to explain the difference.

    Granted, the other way is “You’re all fat,” but I remember how well that went over when someone else here tried it.

    • #7
  8. Hammer, The (Ryan M) Member
    Hammer, The (Ryan M)
    @RyanM

    I will say only this, which may or may not mean anything.

    Every year prior to 2020, there was a cold/flu season and some number of people died.  I don’t think those numbers have ever been the same for these different countries each year. I also expect that when we return to “normal” cold and flu season, our winters will continue to look as they always have. 

    So, if omicron-covid is this year’s dominant virus, I won’t be terribly surprised. If people die of respiratory illness, I won’t be surprised. I would expect this cold/flu season to look much like years prior to 2020.

    I think we are mistaken when we look at raw numbers and have as our expectation that there shouldn’t be people dying. Because that will never be the case.

    • #8
  9. Hammer, The (Ryan M) Member
    Hammer, The (Ryan M)
    @RyanM

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf (View Comment):

    Or, . . . and hear me out here . . . the numbers we’re given in the U.S. are completely bogus.

    Completely. Absolutely. All 240 million people are in on the scam, except you and me.

    I think we have adopted a strange practice of obsessing over numbers that nobody ever paid much attention to in years past and trying to read something into every fluctuation we see. We are also testing for covid to an extent that we’ve never tested for anything in all of history.

    Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that things will not appear normal until we start behaving normally again.  Stop testing, stop obsessing, start just living our lives.

    • #9
  10. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Or maybe those collecting the death statistics are flat lying. There are benefits that accrue to the public health establishment in the US for high numbers of Covid deaths. At this point the Federal government has become so corrupt I don’t trust it. If omicron isn’t causing deaths in the rest of the world I doubt it is causing deaths in the US. I believe we are being lied to.

    It wouldn’t be surprising if people’s immune systems (and resultant death rates) vary around the world. 

    The latter half of the twentieth century saw two really weird and counterintuitive trend lines in developed countries. While dangerous infectious diseases like smallpox, mumps, measles, and tuberculosis were successfully pushed back and in some cases got to the verge of elimination, other diseases and disorders began to grow or even skyrocketed. The rates of diseases like multiple sclerosis, hay fever, Crohn’s disease, type 1 diabetes, and asthma have increased by as much as 300% in the last century. But this is not all: It seems like you can draw a direct line from how developed and rich a society is to how much of its population suffers from some kind of allergy or autoimmune disorder.

    The number of new cases of type 1 diabetes is ten times higher in Finland than it is in Mexico, and 124 times higher than in Pakistan. As many as one in ten of all preschool children in Western countries suffer from some form of food allergy while only around two in one hundred in mainland China do. Ulcerative colitis, a nasty inflammatory bowel disease, is twice as prevalent in Western Europe as in Eastern Europe. Around 20% of all U.S. Americans suffer from allergies. All of these disorders have two common denominators: either the immune system is overreacting to a seemingly harmless trigger, like pollen from blooming plants, peanuts, the excrements of dust mites, or air pollution (in a nutshell: allergies), or it is going a step further and is straight up attacking and killing civilian body cells, which we experience as autoimmune disorders like type 1 diabetes. All while humans are dying less from infections.

    — Dettmer, Philipp. Immune (p. 270). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

    This is from Chapter 41, “The Hygiene Hypothesis and Old Friends.”

    Not all of the things in this chapter about infectious diseases, but the covid that gets to the point where it kills people usually does so through an immune system that is overreacting.

    While none of the causal factors that Dettmer discusses is unique to the United States, it is clear that there are other factors than the level of lying that make for differences among nations.

     

    • #10
  11. Hammer, The (Ryan M) Member
    Hammer, The (Ryan M)
    @RyanM

    Let me also throw this out there. 

    https://nypost.com/2022/01/13/omicron-91-percent-less-likely-to-be-fatal-compared-to-delta-cdc-study/

    • #11
  12. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Saint Augustine:

    Enter the USA: If I’m reading this chart right, death rates look like they’re just about to pass the Delta wave death rates.

    Dang.

    So maybe Omicron is still killing people, and killing them in numbers enough that its dominance is not a good thing in absolute terms: massive transmission rates, massive case numbers, much lower death rate, and still more deaths overall.

    I wouldn’t conclude from that graph that its dominance is the problem.  The rate at which it infects is the problem. 

    Here is a graph that presents mostly the same data, but is a little clearer. The death rate has been bouncing around under Omicron, and there is no saying where it will go next, but it isn’t clear that it’s going to go higher than Delta.  Maybe it will.

    And here are data showing how the U.S. compares to the European Union. We’ve been going back and forth with the EU for the lead in cases and deaths. At the moment we’re ahead in the per capita rate of each.

     

     

    • #12
  13. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Here is a graph that presents mostly the same data, but is a little clearer. The death rate has been bouncing around under Omicron, and there is no saying where it will go next, but it isn’t clear that it’s going to go higher than Delta.  Maybe it will.

    Those charts are deaths per million people, not deaths per million with the virus, aren’t they?

    Either way, looks to me like confirmation of a much lower death rate among people with the virus.

    • #13
  14. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Here is a graph that presents mostly the same data, but is a little clearer. The death rate has been bouncing around under Omicron, and there is no saying where it will go next, but it isn’t clear that it’s going to go higher than Delta. Maybe it will.

    Those charts are deaths per million people, not deaths per million with the virus, aren’t they?

    Either way, looks to me like confirmation of a much lower death rate among people with the virus.

    Yes, they are.  Here  is another one that confirms what you or anyone else can get by eyeballing the above charts. The dramatic drop in the case fatality rate in the U.S. is even more obvious if you omit the red line (for the EU).

    • #14
  15. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Hammer, The (Ryan M) (View Comment):

    Let me also throw this out there.

    https://nypost.com/2022/01/13/omicron-91-percent-less-likely-to-be-fatal-compared-to-delta-cdc-study/

    91 is a darn good number.  What I wonder is whether the danger of the virus in an infected person is so much less that, with the increased transmission rate, it means more lives saved overall.

    At any rate, it’s a massive improvement over Delta.  I still think a lot of people who have not already recovered from Covid need vaccines–at a wild guess, maybe everyone over 40 plus anyone else with two or more comorbidities.

    But it really looks like most of us are going to get Omicron, it’s going to be the common cold, and it will give us better immunity for all forms of Covid than any manmade vaccine yet.  That is very good news.

    It’s also yet another reason to reallow liberty and the living of life.

    • #15
  16. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    I still think a lot of people need vaccines–at a wild guess, maybe everyone over 40 plus anyone else with two or more comorbidities.

    Nah. Not if you have already survived Covid. Especially, if (as with me) it wasn’t serious the first time you got it. I don’t plan to be vaccinated against it any more than I intend to get vaccinated for measles, mumps, rubella or the other childhood diseases I survived before vaccines became available.

    • #16
  17. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    I still think a lot of people [who have not already recovered from Covid] need vaccines–at a wild guess, maybe everyone over 40 plus anyone else with two or more comorbidities.

    Nah. Not if you have already survived Covid. Especially, if (as with me) it wasn’t serious the first time you got it. I don’t plan to be vaccinated against it any more than I intend to get vaccinated for measles, mumps, rubella or the other childhood diseases I survived before vaccines became available.

    I should have added that in the first place.  As in the above!

    • #17
  18. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Hammer, The (Ryan M) (View Comment):
    Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that things will not appear normal until we start behaving normally again.  Stop testing, stop obsessing, start just living our lives.

    This guy has a less extreme recommendation along the same lines, which is not to stop testing, but to test fewer people:

    One way to bring the case count down is by testing fewer people. “Historically in public health, for respiratory viruses in the general population, we consider ‘cases’ to be people who have symptoms, not a PCR test,” Dr. Ladapo says. “But during the pandemic, you can have a positive PCR and be completely healthy but be considered a case and be required to behave like a case, which is to isolate and those types of things.”

    That is from an opinion page article in today’s WSJ, which is probably behind a paywall. It’s titled (and subtitled), “Florida Is Living With Covid—and Freedom:The state’s surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo, on his advice against tests for the asymptomatic, his opposition to vaccination mandates, and life in Los Angeles under lockdown.”

    Speaking of tests, we have a small stockpile of antigen tests at home that we are trying to save for upcoming winter travel.   My wife would like to have more on hand–she often comes down with this or that–and I’ve always encouraged her to go ahead and use up a test so she didn’t have to worry about it.  She noted yesterday that tests are back in stock, I think at Wal-Mart, but it’s one that requires the use of an app on your smartphone. I am against those.   That means reporting your data to authorities, and I don’t want to do that. I’m in favor of frequent testing. I’m not in favor of those test results finding their way into government hands.  And now that I read that WSJ article, I have additional reasons. 

     

     

    • #18
  19. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    I’ll buy the fat hypothesis.  And despite Omicron-era deaths about to pass Delta, the O cases are around 4x the D cases, so it’s still a death rate per case of only a quarter what Delta was, which itself was something like half of what the 20-21 winter wave was in the US.

    • #19
  20. American Abroad Thatcher
    American Abroad
    @AmericanAbroad

    I don’t know if your obesity hypothesis is correct, but it is absolutely shocking to me that the dominant strain of public health advice has been to stay indoors, work from a computer screen, and wear a mask.  The advice should have been go outside, eat healthy, and exercise.  

    • #20
  21. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    American Abroad (View Comment):

    I don’t know if your obesity hypothesis is correct, but it is absolutely shocking to me that the dominant strain of public health advice has been to stay indoors, work from a computer screen, and wear a mask. The advice should have been go outside, eat healthy, and exercise.

    Yeah.

    I even wonder if old-school chicken pox parenting might by now be the right approach to Covid for kids.

    • #21
  22. Hammer, The (Ryan M) Member
    Hammer, The (Ryan M)
    @RyanM

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Or maybe those collecting the death statistics are flat lying. There are benefits that accrue to the public health establishment in the US for high numbers of Covid deaths. At this point the Federal government has become so corrupt I don’t trust it. If omicron isn’t causing deaths in the rest of the world I doubt it is causing deaths in the US. I believe we are being lied to.

    It wouldn’t be surprising if people’s immune systems (and resultant death rates) vary around the world.

    The latter half of the twentieth century saw two really weird and counterintuitive trend lines in developed countries. While dangerous infectious diseases like smallpox, mumps, measles, and tuberculosis were successfully pushed back and in some cases got to the verge of elimination, other diseases and disorders began to grow or even skyrocketed. The rates of diseases like multiple sclerosis, hay fever, Crohn’s disease, type 1 diabetes, and asthma have increased by as much as 300% in the last century. But this is not all: It seems like you can draw a direct line from how developed and rich a society is to how much of its population suffers from some kind of allergy or autoimmune disorder.

    The number of new cases of type 1 diabetes is ten times higher in Finland than it is in Mexico, and 124 times higher than in Pakistan. As many as one in ten of all preschool children in Western countries suffer from some form of food allergy while only around two in one hundred in mainland China do. Ulcerative colitis, a nasty inflammatory bowel disease, is twice as prevalent in Western Europe as in Eastern Europe. Around 20% of all U.S. Americans suffer from allergies. All of these disorders have two common denominators: either the immune system is overreacting to a seemingly harmless trigger, like pollen from blooming plants, peanuts, the excrements of dust mites, or air pollution (in a nutshell: allergies), or it is going a step further and is straight up attacking and killing civilian body cells, which we experience as autoimmune disorders like type 1 diabetes. All while humans are dying less from infections.

    — Dettmer, Philipp. Immune (p. 270). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

    This is from Chapter 41, “The Hygiene Hypothesis and Old Friends.”

    Not all of the things in this chapter about infectious diseases, but the covid that gets to the point where it kills people usually does so through an immune system that is overreacting.

    While none of the causal factors that Dettmer discusses is unique to the United States, it is clear that there are other factors than the level of lying that make for differences among nations.

     

    I find this fascinating. I wonder if it is a result of the over-sanitization of our lives. 

    • #22
  23. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    American Abroad (View Comment):

    I don’t know if your obesity hypothesis is correct, but it is absolutely shocking to me that the dominant strain of public health advice has been to stay indoors, work from a computer screen, and wear a mask. The advice should have been go outside, eat healthy, and exercise.

    Yeah.

    I even wonder if old-school chicken pox parenting might by now be the right approach to Covid for kids.

    I’m listening to Dr. Daniel Griffin on This Week in Virology while I write this. He mentioned this and says no. 

    • #23
  24. Hammer, The (Ryan M) Member
    Hammer, The (Ryan M)
    @RyanM

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    I still think a lot of people [who have not already recovered from Covid] need vaccines–at a wild guess, maybe everyone over 40 plus anyone else with two or more comorbidities.

    Nah. Not if you have already survived Covid. Especially, if (as with me) it wasn’t serious the first time you got it. I don’t plan to be vaccinated against it any more than I intend to get vaccinated for measles, mumps, rubella or the other childhood diseases I survived before vaccines became available.

    I should have added that in the first place. As in the above!

    If also amend your age cutoff somewhere closer to 70. Even the numbers for the elderly vary greatly based on health factors. 

    • #24
  25. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Hammer, The (Ryan M) (View Comment):
    I find this fascinating. I wonder if it is a result of the over-sanitization of our lives. 

    That’s the Hygiene Hypothesis, and it seems it might not be quite as simple as that, but we are probably depriving ourselves of some encounters with non-harmful microbes that would help train our immune systems if we experienced them.

    • #25
  26. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    American Abroad (View Comment):

    I don’t know if your obesity hypothesis is correct, but it is absolutely shocking to me that the dominant strain of public health advice has been to stay indoors, work from a computer screen, and wear a mask. The advice should have been go outside, eat healthy, and exercise.

    Yeah.

    I even wonder if old-school chicken pox parenting might by now be the right approach to Covid for kids.

    I’m listening to Dr. Daniel Griffin on This Week in Virology while I write this. He mentioned this and says no.

    Good to know someone objects. I trust he has a good reason. Is it too much to hope that he explained his reason well, that you can remember it, and that you have a moment to share it?

    • #26
  27. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Hammer, The (Ryan M) (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    I still think a lot of people [who have not already recovered from Covid] need vaccines–at a wild guess, maybe everyone over 40 plus anyone else with two or more comorbidities.

    Nah. Not if you have already survived Covid. Especially, if (as with me) it wasn’t serious the first time you got it. I don’t plan to be vaccinated against it any more than I intend to get vaccinated for measles, mumps, rubella or the other childhood diseases I survived before vaccines became available.

    I should have added that in the first place. As in the above!

    If also amend your age cutoff somewhere closer to 70. Even the numbers for the elderly vary greatly based on health factors.

    A full 70!  I don’t know. Maybe so.

    • #27
  28. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Nohaaj (View Comment):

    Obesity has always been a significant factor in re covid attributed deaths. @ jacobhyatt has posted here about those correlations and causations, along with many others who posted with similar data (perhaps with less significant scientific analysis).

    Yeah, I sit here a few stone overweight, recovering from OhMyGawd™ variant, knowing I should do more push-aways* and fast a bit more…

    Push-aways are defined as getting up from the eating surface with an abrupt and sure motion. “push away”

     

    Dad said that that was the only exercise that would help you lose weight.

    • #28
  29. Hammer, The (Ryan M) Member
    Hammer, The (Ryan M)
    @RyanM

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    American Abroad (View Comment):

    I don’t know if your obesity hypothesis is correct, but it is absolutely shocking to me that the dominant strain of public health advice has been to stay indoors, work from a computer screen, and wear a mask. The advice should have been go outside, eat healthy, and exercise.

    Yeah.

    I even wonder if old-school chicken pox parenting might by now be the right approach to Covid for kids.

    I’m listening to Dr. Daniel Griffin on This Week in Virology while I write this. He mentioned this and says no.

    I don’t k know about intentionally infecting kids, but… My kids have been in (a private) school all year with no masks, no closures, no restrictions whatsoever, and no constant testing for covid (no mention of covid at all). They’ve had some colds go around, but this is how things are supposed to be. Literally every school in the nation should be doing this. Frankly, it’s criminal that they’re not.

    • #29
  30. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    American Abroad (View Comment):

    I don’t know if your obesity hypothesis is correct, but it is absolutely shocking to me that the dominant strain of public health advice has been to stay indoors, work from a computer screen, and wear a mask. The advice should have been go outside, eat healthy, and exercise.

    Yeah.

    I even wonder if old-school chicken pox parenting might by now be the right approach to Covid for kids.

    I’m listening to Dr. Daniel Griffin on This Week in Virology while I write this. He mentioned this and says no.

    Good to know someone objects. I trust he has a good reason. Is it too much to hope that he explained his reason well, that you can remember it, and that you have a moment to share it?

    I’d have to go back and listen, and I’m not sure he explained it well.  There is a bit of, “children are dying!” in his presentations without getting much into the factors of which children are dying.  I was turned off of listening to him when I first heard of him back in 2020, largely because he came across that way. Lately I’ve been finding him valuable to listen to and have a lot more respect for him, but I’m not sure on this particular point. Maybe I’ll go back, but I also want to get on to another new TWiV episode that is going to go over some of the same new studies that Griffin went over on this one.   That one is a 2-hour commitment.

     

    • #30
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