Studies have shown that the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, seems to be far less dangerous than previous strains. Omicron is up to 80% less likely to cause hospitalizations, and those who contract Omicron have milder symptoms overall, according to a report from the British government.
But those studies haven’t stopped some public officials, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), from stoking fear about the “danger of Omicron.”
“California is now seeing nearly 15,000 new Covid-19 cases every day, a five-fold growth in just one month,” Feinstein said in a press release Tuesday. “And hotspots like Los Angeles are seeing even faster spread, with new cases up 450 percent in just two weeks.”
The senator is right about the increasing spread of Omicron. The strain is “now estimated to be 58.6% of all U.S. cases,” according to the CDC, and Feinstein is concerned that those numbers could climb and result in more hospitalizations following family holiday gatherings, but her warning of the danger of Omicron doesn’t match up with recent revelations about the variant.
To prevent the further spread of the “dangerous Omicron variant,” Feinstein has a plan for her constituents to follow. “I can’t stress enough the need to wear masks and avoid large public gatherings as this disease once again surges,” she stated. “It’s critical that we continue to follow public health guidelines, which we know help limit transmission of this disease.”
Interestingly, Feinstein is telling this to people who live in California, a state with one of the strictest mask policies in the country. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) reimposed an indoor mask mandate on December 15 in response to Omicron showing up in the U.S. “The new mask mandate is set to take effect on Wednesday and will expire on Jan. 15. It will apply to everyone, regardless of vaccination status,” Fox News reported.
Feinstein’s call for people to follow California’s mask mandate comes just after CNN’s medical expert, Dr. Leana Wen, said for a second time that “cloth masks are not appropriate for this pandemic.” Wen went on to claim that anyone wearing a mask should be wearing 3-ply surgical masks or N-95, K-N95, or KF94 respirator masks.
“If our country and different jurisdictions are going to go as far as to mandate masks in some settings, let’s at least wear the most effective masks,” Wen stressed. “I’m not saying don’t wear a face-covering at all, I’m just saying if we’re going to do it, do it the right way and really use it in the way that it’s intended to prevent us from spreading and acquiring COVID-19.”
Feinstein also used this as an opportunity to command the unvaccinated to act now. “For those who haven’t been vaccinated or received a booster shot, the time to act is now. With the rapid increase in cases, the potential to become infected and further spread the omicron variant is incredibly high. Two-thirds of Californians are fully vaccinated, but that number needs to rise,” she added.
Of course, Feinstein couldn’t end her address on Omicron without threatening her constituents with the possibility that deaths due to the strain could “easily skyrocket in coming weeks.”
“Around 50 Californians are dying every day from Covid-19,” she said. “While that number is a fraction of the more than 500 daily deaths at the peak of this disease, it’s still far too many. And the number could easily skyrocket in coming weeks if precautions aren’t followed.”