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Monday, August 15, 2022

Omicron comes just in time to (maybe) ruin Christmas plans

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A year after canceling Christmas plans in favor of video calls with family, Brandon Powell is ready to do it all over again.

When Powell spoke to the Recorder before Christmas in 2020, he said foregoing holiday plans was just a matter of accepting reality. He didn’t want the weight of getting someone infected — or even seriously ill — on his conscience.

Things are different this year with vaccines widely available, but there’s also a new variant — omicron — that is spreading quicker than previous variants, and initial data suggests vaccines are less effective at preventing infection.

Powell and his family are vaccinated, including his 80-year-old mother, who he plans to see. Other than that, they’ll once again hunker down, as Powell says.

“If we went somewhere, would we have the freedom to just be relaxed?” he said. “Could you see family without thinking you’re putting yourself in a situation where you get them sick?”

Almost 75% of people in an Axios/Ipsos poll said they plan to see family or friends outside of their household during the holidays. Of note, the poll was conducted over a three-day period starting Dec. 10, when there were only 43 identified cases of the omicron variant in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Dec. 21 that nearly 3 in 4 cases nationwide are of the omicron variant, and it could be as high as 90% or more in some regions, including the industrial Midwest.

State officials announced the first detected omicron case in Indiana on Dec. 19. The variant was detected in a specimen collected Dec. 9, and the person was unvaccinated.

Scientists are still in the early stages of learning about the new variant.

Fauci said people who are vaccinated with a booster shot should be OK in congregate settings like airports while still taking other precautions such as wearing a mask.

The CDC says it’s not clear if an omicron infection will cause more serious illness, a factor that could change depending on if it’s the person’s first infection or a repeat infection. Vaccines are still expected to protect against serious illness, but so far, only the Moderna and Pfizer shots, when reinforced with a booster, appear to still be effective at stopping infections.

There were 697 new COVID-19 cases reported in Marion County on Dec. 15, the most since Sept. 9. Slightly more than half of county residents are considered fully vaccinated, though the vaccine rate for African Americans (35%) is far behind that of other demographics, which are all above 50%.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853 or tylerf@indyrecorder.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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