A rather remarkable thing happened on Tuesday and Wednesday: My Twitter timeline and TikTok “For You” page proved to be a useful epidemiological barometer. It started as a trickle of anecdotal tweets. Wow, like half the people in my group chat have COVID. People began retweeting photos of COVID testing lines sprawling down sidewalks. By Wednesday, my TikTok page was an endless series of videos from total strangers that looked like this:
After a weekend of vaccinated and boosted holiday party-going and general life-living, the Omicron variant appears to have made solid landfall in major American cities, and things are moving quickly:
A steep increase in cases was, of course, expected and follows trends from the United Kingdom and South Africa. Even so, the rise feels stark. The chart that stood out to me is this one, from Cornell University:
What the chart doesn’t show is that 97 percent of Cornell students are vaccinated. As of Thursday, none of those cases featured severe illness. And because the school does comprehensive surveillance testing (including of asymptomatic students), it's likely that a number of those positives came from people who didn't know they had it. And so the situation feels a bit different than many of us are used to. Scary-looking hockey-stick graph. Almost all breakthrough infections. So far, reasonably mild illness. Changes in plans (exams are moving online), but no real panic.
This is where I’d like to remark that we are in a super-weird moment right now. This isn’t an earth-shattering observation, but I still think it’s worth acknowledging how, 20 months into this pandemic, we’re entering a new phase with different dynamics. Even the culture-warring around COVID is of a different flavor.