For the fourth time in two years, things are beginning to settle down after a terrifying wave of the latest Covid-19 variant.
Though much of the country is still in the teeth of the Omicron surge, the experience in other countries, as well as the improvements seen in many US states, has led to a familiar phenomenon: various experts in infectious disease, epidemiology, public health, pandemic modeling and perhaps crystal ball interpretation being trotted out to give their two cents on what lies ahead.
This seems logical enough — we do need to have an idea of what to expect tomorrow and next week and beyond so that we can recalibrate our worry index, visit family we haven’t seen and even plan a trip. But given the collective track record of predictions by the same well-meaning individuals (myself among them), all of these fortune-tellers should agree to provide the following disclaimer with each prediction: “Though trying my best, I really am clueless regarding what’s ahead.”
Surely this great humbling is the lesson of the Omicron variant. It broke every “rule” of pandemic behavior we thought we had established. With unprecedented swiftness, it went from a variant of concern on November 26, 2021 to millions and millions of cases in less than two months and now it’s receding quickly in many countries (and in parts of the US) — though still a growing threat in others. Also unexpected were the differences in the symptoms caused by Omicron (milder than other variants, though not mild) and the fact that Omicron partially evaded vaccine-induced immunity (though booster doses do help to bump up immunity against Omicron).
But after accepting that we are trapped in a phenomenon we still can’t reliably predict, what else is there to do but to try and forecast the post-Omicron world?