The dangers of calling omicron 'mild'

The word "mild" has saturated American discourse on omicron in recent weeks, causing many to adopt a dangerously cavalier mindset about the variant, health experts told The Atlantic.

Amid emerging research suggesting the variant causes less severe illness and fewer hospitalizations than delta, many people have misconstrued this evidence and adopted the false notion that omicron is not dangerous at all.

"People say, 'It's inevitable; it's mild; I hope I can catch it and move on,'" Lekshmi Santhosh, MD, a critical care physician at UCSF Health in San Francisco, told The Atlantic. 

This is "a very dangerous attitude," said Akiko Iwasaki, PhD, an immunologist at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn. Calling omicron "mild" shifts responsibility of harm prevention away from humans and onto the virus, according to The Atlantic. This is problematic, considering the virus's only imperative is to spread. The more opportunities the virus has to infect new hosts, the more opportunities there are for new variants to emerge and prolong the pandemic. 

And even though a relatively small proportion of omicron cases are severe, the sheer volume of new infections recorded over the last month has still brought COVID-19 hospitalizations to record levels and overburdened the U.S. healthcare system.

Omicron is also magnifying chronic health issues that are proving fatal for some patients, according to Dr. Santhosh of UCSF Health. "You could say they didn't die of COVID," she told The Atlantic. "But if they didn't have COVID, they wouldn't have had this issue."

Ultimately, Americans must recognize their role in limiting omicron's harm and realize that the surge's severity is not up to the virus alone. 

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