On Friday, the Ministry of Health noted 28 more covid19 cases identified as the omicron variant, bringing the total of known infections to 56.
Eighteen of them had no direct contact with an infected traveller; eight others are under epidemiological investigation. It should be noted that not every sample is tested to see whether it is the omicron variant; such testing is done randomly. So the reported cases represent an unknown fraction of the real number.
Once omicron begins community spread, its highly infectious nature quickly multiplies cases. In the US, on November 6, 2021, new covid19 cases totalled 29,541 nationwide; by January 6, new cases reached 793,312. That explosion has put US hospitals and other care centres under tremendous pressure and the region now also facing the consequences of a covid19 surge.
Jamaica's parallel health care system hit full capacity on Friday, according to its Ministry of Health and Wellness. Red alert status was declared for Jamaica's hospitals. Daily demand for patient hospitalisation jumped from 686 to 828 from January 14-20, and the island's hospitals are only admitting emergency cases. Similarly, on Saturday, principal medical officer Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards warned that TT's ICU beds are almost filled and cautioned, "Resources are limited and eventually they may be expended."
There are three facts about the omicron variant that the public should be aware of. First, it is significantly more contagious than delta, requiring far more stringent adherence to protocols to limit transmission. Vigilance in masking and social distancing is needed. Full vaccination is the most effective protection against infection that results in severe symptoms, and even then boosters are recommended as an important reinforcement.
Early evidence suggests omicron is less deadly than delta, but it is not clear that it is less dangerous than the original alpha strain. Patients with comorbidities – and there are many in TT – remain at risk of poor outcomes. Widespread transmission of omicron increases the number of patients requiring hospitalisation as a percentage of the overall infected numbers.
The seven-day average for hospitalisation in the US is at a peak not seen since January 9, 2021, when admission numbers hit 255,614. On January 16, 2022, US hospital admissions reached 381,963. In New Zealand, once lauded for long keeping the virus at bay, the Prime Minister has postponed her own wedding in the face of cases expected to rise to thousands a day despite a national vaccination rate above 90 per cent.
Rising omicron numbers also bring increased risk to medical workers and to patients with critical or chronic illnesses who, after almost two years, are suffering from diminished hospital capacity to care for them.
TT is an island nation, but we would do well to watch what is happening around the world and learn what lessons we can before we are overwhelmed.