Why one Northern California ER doctor calls Omicron the pandemic’s ‘knight in shining armor’

Though the surge of Omicron cases will likely still be “sharp and potentially painful,” Ukiah emergency room physician Drew Colfax said Tuesday that he believes the latest variant of Covid-19 will also finally loosen the virus’ grip on the world.

“I think the knight in shining armor, the thing that’s going to bring this to a close, is in fact Omicron,” said Colfax, who has been working in the emergency room at Adventist Health Ukiah Valley during the past two years of the pandemic.

To explain how Omicron will likely bring us to the end of the worst of the pandemic, Colfax told Alicia Bales during their latest Local Coronavirus Update on KZYX&Z Mendocino County Public Radio that, “We are a nation right now that is about 65 percent fully vaccinated, and we are a nation of some 50 million confirmed Covid cases, so we have a lot of coronavirus immunity at this point, though not the 85- to 90 percent that you need for herd immunity.

“But Omicron washing over us at the tune of a half million cases a day is going to get us, I think very quickly, to that herd immunity stage,” Colfax continued. “And it’s going to do it in the least painful way I could hope for: Which is to say, that so far, at least, (Omicron) has been shown to be a much more benign strain (of coronavirus) than Delta or even Alpha. So yes, people are going to get sick, and yes, hospital numbers are going to go way up, and yes, some areas might even lose capacity, but not the way we would have seen two years ago, or even a year ago.

“I think this is going to be the surge that puts us over the hump for this pandemic,” he said. “And then, we unfortunately, we just slouch toward an endemic, and then we have Covid with us.”

“Do you think boosters are going to become a regular thing that we will have to do?” asked Bales, and Colfax said it was “quite possible.”

As for the Omicron peak currently, Colfax said it will be “short and sharp and potentially painful, and the peak for California has moved; some people are thinking it might peak as soon as the 9th or 10th (of January). But oddly, somewhat surprisingly, we’re not seeing a massive surge yet in this county. I’m seeing a lot of Omicron, and a lot of Covid, to be sure, and much more than I was a couple of months ago. But it’s not the mad numbers; we’re just not seeing the 100 cases a day in the county that some jurisdictions are seeing. Yet again, another oddity of Covid.”

He pointed out that one of the reasons for lower than expected case numbers could be the use of home tests: “I think a lot of people are getting tested at home and they are not ending up in any sort of government tally. Whether that’s what I’m seeing in this county or not, it’s hard to say.”

As of Jan. 4, Colfax said the county was “adding about 15 cases a day, which is not great, it’s a lot. And I’m seeing a lot of kids in the ER with Covid, that’s a daily occurrence now. They’re fine, they’re not critically ill, but they have Covid.”

As far as hospitalizations, Colfax said that as of Monday there were nine people hospitalized with Covid in Mendocino County, two of whom needed the Intensive Care Unit. He described “nine as not a small number in any small county to be sure, but after two years we’ve certainly learned how to manage that.

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