ORANGE COUNTY, California – The number of cases of COVID-19 has risen again, driven by another strain of a well-known variant, and once again, government officials are figuring out how to deal with it.
The case rate in Orange County has remained relatively flat, but pockets of the omicron BA.2 sub-variant are the source of rising cases in China and enough in Philadelphia to inspire a return to mask ordinances
“It has not shaken my world to be honest with you,” said University of California Irvine epidemiologist Andrew Noymer.
It is too early to say what it will be, and with vaccines and a developed distribution network, the United States is more equipped than it has been to vaccinate humans.
But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found it appropriate to extend the mask mandate for airlines by another 15 days. That announcement came Wednesday, just as Californians have become accustomed to casual or eliminated mask ordinances.
The increase in cases comes when cases are supposed to be down. During the summer months, people spend more time outside, where the virus has been shown to be less effective. But this new twist on the omicron is 10% more spreadable, Noymer said.
Cities and restaurants across the state have been eager to end mask mandates, and some, like Noymer, are worried that people will completely stop wearing them.
Violations of mesh mandates are useful, even necessary, to ensure that people wear them when the case frequency is expected to get worse again in the winter.
Messages about coronavirus have changed as COVID-19 has become a normal part of life and other, bigger stories have taken over the news cycle.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, has been the face of the COVID-19 response. When Fauci first issued dismal recommendations for social distancing, he has softened his language.
It follows poll data from the end of February, which shows declining fears among Americans about coronavirus.
Yet the respiratory disease has the power to scare the stock market. The rise in cases in China has been significant enough to send world markets into a short loop last week, with some investors worried that outbreaks there could further disrupt already difficult supply chain problems.
Noymer pointed out how China has been able to lock down various cities, and essentially declare martial law in the interest of forcing social distance and stopping the spread.
“They can just do things that are in the best interest of their people in the long run, as they see that we can not do because we have a different system of government,” Noymer said.
But the disease is already making a renewed effort on the American shores, what Noymer does not know is how big it will be. While epidemiologists know that it spreads even more easily than the first omicron variant, it is difficult to say how wide it will hit. Delta was more dangerous than omicron, but the broad impact of the latter ultimately resulted in more deaths.
While local numbers have not yet been alarming, Noymer said there is no indication that a wave is coming.
“This is not the flu where we do not really see summer outbreaks,” Noymer said. “This is another animal.”