Health experts believe omicron has mutated to be less severe to survive

Omicron variant
Posted at 3:42 PM, Dec 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-30 08:02:18-05

TAMPA, Fla. — Omicron is extremely contagious and that’s because it takes fewer virus particles to actually infect someone.

“It’s doubling about once every two to three days. That’s a really fast doubling time,” said Dr. Thomas Unnasch, a distinguished health professor at USF’s College of Public Health.

But, Dr. Unnasch said people must focus less on the infection rate and more on hospitalizations because he believes this virus has become less severe in order to survive.

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“Anything that it can do to infect a new host that will improve its ability to jump from person to person is going to be selected by the virus,” he said.

He said if you have a respiratory virus that makes you really sick, you’re more likely to stay home and rest which means you’re not passing the virus on to other people.

“Maybe your spouse, maybe who else lives with you, maybe one person or two other people,” he said. “Now, compare that to a respiratory virus that mutates and causes less disease and you just get a case of the sniffles. What are going to do?”

He said more people are likely to go out and give the virus the opportunity to spread.

“You’re going to go to work, out to the grocery store,” he said. “You’ll go around and expose what? 25 other people? So which is better for the virus?”

Right now, we are seeing a small jump in hospitalizations. Monday, there were 2,406 inpatient beds in use for COVID-19, two days later that number now sits at 3,836. But, if you look back to August 24, 2021, when Delta was at its peak, 17,088 inpatient beds were in use for COVID.

Dr. Unnasch said we just need to keep a close eye on those numbers and if they start to go way up, that will tell us if in fact the virus is less severe or not.

“Right now the data on how many people are getting really sick is pretty darn good,” he said. “So, I think if that trend continues, this going to be something that is not going to be much more than a bad cold for all of us out there that have been vaccinated.”

Right now, health officials are still urging people to get vaccinated and boosted.