It has only been around a little more than a month, but the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19 has taken over. It was first detectedin Botswana and South Africa in mid-November and was reported to the World Health Organization on November 24. Two days later, WHO named it a variant of concern, a designation that the U.S. confirmed two days after. On December 1, the first confirmed U.S. Omicron case was identified. Now, just three weeks later, Omicron accounts for three-quarters of new U.S. Covid-19 cases and over 90 percent of cases in the New York metropolitan area.
Omicron has led to a surge in new cases, including many breakthrough cases in the vaccinated. The good news is that, while vaccines may be less effective in defeating Omicron transmission than with earlier variants, the vaccines appear to retain their effectiveness in preventing severe disease. But even though a smaller proportion of Omicron cases goes on to severe illness, a large enough increase in infections would create the possibility of increased hospitalizations and deaths. And with increasing infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, public-health officials may return to the destructive lockdown mentality.
Cheap, rapid, readily available at-home tests could short circuit this possibility by helping to control the outbreak. They would give people the option to reassure themselves that they are not ill or endangering others without having to wait for tests that only yield results days later. Unfortunately, rapid at-home tests are still scarce, and scenes of anxious people lining up around the block for tests at medical facilities are common around the country.
President Biden has tried to excuse the testing shortage by claiming that no one could have anticipated the rapid arrival of a new, highly transmissible variant and the need for easily available testing. His explanation strains credulity.
Read the full article in City Journal.