Omicron implements Own Soft Lockdown

“I don’t see a scenario for any kind of closure,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared this week, as parts of New York are in fact closing around him. Broadway canceled show after show. Restaurants closed their kitchens. De Blasio’s successor, Eric Adams, who will sit on Jan. 1, has skipped his inaugural gala. There’s no March 2020 – style universal shutdown, but New York isn’t back, baby.

For Brent Young, who runs a butcher shop and two restaurants in Brooklyn, it started last week when, one by one, staff were positive. “It has more or less decimated our workforce,” he said. One of his restaurants has been solidly booked with parties for a week — the holidays are one of the busiest times of the year for restaurants — but people have also started to cancel parties. that party. At this point, it’s not worth it to try to stay open, Young says, “because the anxiety is so high that no one wants to eat.” For most people who are vaccinated, Omicron will be mild. But even a mild cold, prevalent enough, can disrupt a city.

A voluntary suspension of activity — a soft lock, in essence — can help alleviate coronavirus transmission. This happened nationwide in the spring of 2020, when people started staying home before official stay-at-home orders dropped, said Saad Omer, an epidemiologist at Yale and a co-author of a paper that studied the phenomenon using an anonymous cellphone. data. It’s intuitive, actually. “Things are getting more and more noticeable; you react there, “Omer said. This feedback loop, completely ignored by standard epidemiological models, can help determine the shape and duration of the Omicron wave — but exactly how difficult it is to predict.

The classic “epi curve” shows cases rising sharply until so many people are immune that the spread of the virus needs to slow down. Then the cases fall sharply. But if soft lockdowns can help curb the spread of that viral, cases will go down sooner, while many people are still susceptible. In other words, “when you see a peak and you see it go down, it doesn’t mean the risk has weakened,” said Joshua Weitz, who studies viral dynamics at Georgia Tech. According to the work of Weitz and his colleagues, this helps explain why COVID cases increased and increased several times during the pandemic. Those peaks are likely to be asymmetrical, with a steeper rise than a fall. It may also be behavior-related: People may be more cautious when they see an initial influx of cases but they will let go of their vigilance when pandemic stress arrives. Just as our voluntary actions can act as a brake in rising cases, they can also slow down tides. Omicron is getting stronger at a time when Americans are tired of the pandemic, so this soft lockdown may not last long. And in communities where people are overly COVID, this may not happen.

Predicting how people will behave is one of the biggest challenges of a pandemic. It’s easier to see the impact of official policies with start and end dates, such as school or business closures last year. Now the closures are more of a patchwork, with some businesses closing and some events canceled, says Micaela Martinez, an infectious disease ecologist at Emory University. It will be difficult to interpret case trends over the next few weeks. In London, where the Omicron-fueled growth of cases seems to be slowing, several factors could be rooted: habit change, maximum test capacity, or the virus running through an immune wall.

Whatever the impact of the soft lockdown on the spread of Omicron, it will also affect the economy. Even if customers remain willing to leave, businesses will have to close when too many employees fall ill or are stuck in quarantine. This is why the NHL canceled its games until Christmas and why some museums in London closed. Shortening the separation periods due to Omicron may help reduce these interruptions. The UK now allows sick people to try out of isolation on the seventh day, and the US. is considered a shorter period for people vaccinated with cases of success.

In a soft lock, businesses are also alone. Stay-at-home orders last spring included unemployment assistance and emergency loans. None of that is coming at this time. “All of the decision-making is put on the small business owners,” Young said. He will have to bear the cost of closing his businesses, and then just hope that they will reopen soon. Meanwhile, he says, he buys all the quick tests he can.