Let’s be honest; while the holiday season brings joyous gatherings, it may also bring an uptick in sickness. And COVID-19, despite how much things seem back to normal, is still very present and a big problem points out Harvard Health Publishing. Last year around the holidays, the concern around the Delta variant seemed to be fading, until a new COVID-19 variant stepped into the spotlight — Omicron (per WebMD). “This time of year last year we were optimistic.
We were coming out of the Delta wave, and it was steadily decreasing, and we went into Thanksgiving to wake up to Omicron. So there is this sort of déjà vu feeling from last year,” Dr. Jeremy Luban from the University of Massachusetts tells NPR. But why are health experts feeling a sense of déjà vu?
For starters, during the winter season, dry air, low levels of vitamin D, and being cold can all increase the chances of a person getting sick, since these factors may weaken the immune system, explains Northwestern Medicine. The low temperature can also increase and spread the number of viruses in the environment, shares Northwestern Medicine physician Dr. Winston Rajendram.
Similar to last year, two new Omicron subvariants — BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 — are showing similar trajectories (per WebMD). Epidemiologist William Hanage anticipates that the U.S. will likely see COVID-19 cases surge during the winter, with BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 being significant players if nothing changes (per NPR).
As of November 12, the two subvariants of Omicron (BQ.1 and BQ.1.1) account for the majority of COVID-19 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Together these subvariants make up 44.2% of total new infections when approximately a month ago they accounted for 8.7% combined (per CDC).
With the uptick in BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 infections, some preliminary evidence suggests that BQ.1.1 in particular has an easier time bypassing vaccines when compared to older variants (via bioRxiv). More research is needed to confirm this.
Watching these numbers increase may explain why health experts feel a sense of déjà vu with the new COVID-19 variants and the holidays. Even if there is a winter surge in coronavirus infections, many experts believe it will be less than the previous two years, points out NPR. That said, vaccinations are an effective way to protect yourself from serious COVID-19 illness, explains the CDC.
The chief medical advisor for the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci, tells NPR, “Hopefully, more people will go and get their updated vaccine — the bivalent vaccine. That will mitigate a real surge and at worst we’ll get a blip versus a major surge.”