People in Utah wait to be tested for COVID-19 by NOMI Health personnel. Photo: Scott G Winterton

As 2022 approached, the first Omicron COVID-19 variant case in the United States was confirmed on Dec. 1, 2021 by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). As of Dec. 20, 2021, Omicron had been detected in most states and territories at a rapidly increasing rate. By late December, the seven-day daily average COVID-19 case count in the United States surpassed the Delta variant summer surge. “The variant’s unusually high number of mutations makes it significantly more contagious and capable of eluding the body’s first line of immune defenses,” said The Washington Post. This high transmission rate is due to the fact that Omicron also has more than 30 genetic changes in the spike protein (the part of the virus that binds to human cells and provides it with entry). However, early research suggests that despite Omicron’s higher rate of transmission, Omicron’s symptoms have been that of a common cold, and those infected with Omicron were almost 60 percent less likely to be hospitalized than those infected with the Delta variant. This can in part be explained by researcher and biological engineer Venky Soudararajan, who claims that “as a virus evolves to become more transmissible, it generally ‘loses’ traits that cause severe symptoms,” said The Washington Post.

Along with the new COVID-19 variant comes the returning cycle within the decline or even shutting down of businesses, global events and attempts of aid and support by the government. This year, according to The New York Times, these setbacks are reoccurring with Omicron. Staff shortage, stemming from a relentless surge of COVID-19 cases, recently led the Smithsonian and National Zoo to operate on a reduced schedule indefinitely. The 64th Grammy Awards will now take place on April 3, 2022 in Los Vegas rather than in Los Angeles on the original date of Jan. 31, 2022. Beijing has begun to place restrictions on and halt Winter Olympic ticket sales. “Given the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to ensure the safety of all participants and spectators, it has been decided that tickets should not be sold anymore but be part of an adapted program that will invite groups of spectators to be present on site during The Games,” said the International Olympic Committee. But continuity also remains within government aid efforts. For example, the Biden administration launched its website in early 2022, allowing people of the United States to order up to four free at-home COVID-19 tests. New York Mayor Eric Adams continues to encourage COVID-19 safety protocols, allowing the state to keep more than 75 percent of students in school rather than only the 67 percent that returned after the winter break. 

But this cycle of new variants reveals the uncertainty that lies within the future of COVID-19. Physician-scientist and immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci continues to express the inability to know exactly what will happen next regarding this pandemic. Written in May of 2020, Gavi (the vaccine alliance) predicted three potential scenarios regarding the future of COVID-19. Scenario one predicted mini waves of smaller outbreaks every few months, claiming that the location of the outbreaks would depend on the mitigation measures in place. Scenario two predicted that the first COVID-19 outbreak would be followed by a large second wave, as seen in the past with 1918 Spanish flu that peaked later in 1919. And finally, scenario three claimed that the same variation of COVID-19 outbreaks would continue by the end of 2022. While the article contains truth and falsifications supported by today’s Omicron variant, the underlying uncertainty and confusion of the virus, in part, continues to remain among scientists today.

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