Questions surround omicron variant's relationship with long-haul COVID

Virus Outbreak
Posted at 9:55 PM, Jan 11, 2022

The U.S. is now averaging nearly 600,000 new cases of COVID infections per day, meaning millions of people are getting infected with the virus.

The omicron variant is sweeping across the nation, prompting long lines at COVID testing sites.

So far, the omicron variant appears to be milder than previous variants, and there are fewer hospitalizations and deaths from it. 

"Our vaccines, especially when combined with boosters, have remained extremely effective at keeping people out of the hospital and it is saving their lives," U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said.

Still, many people are now getting infected with the more transmissible variant.

Dr. Bruce Y. Lee is a professor at the City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. He's been studying and tracking the virus since the pandemic began.

"Based on the data, it looks like the peak of this current Omicron wave will probably occur sometime in mid-January," Dr. Lee said.

By then, millions more Americans could potentially be infected with COVID, but it's what happens in the months after those infections that will need to be looked at closely, including what Omicron might mean in terms of new long-haul COVID cases.

"Long-COVID is something that's many times overlooked and not discussed," Dr. Lee said. "People are focusing on things like deaths or potentially hospitalizations, and so many people tend to forget there is a significant percentage of people who are suffering from long COVID."

Dr. Lee says with previous variants there has been some correlation between how severe a COVID case is and how likely that person will become a long-hauler.

The World Health Organization defines long-COVID as having symptoms more than months after initial infection.

"So, it's not clear what percentage of people who've been infected with omicron and variants will develop these persistent long-COVID symptoms versus other variants."

And it's something that, for omicron cases, might not become clearer until the spring.

This story was originally reported