What you missed in Columbus for Dec. 20

Omicron has officials braced for the worst; COVID-19 continues to ravage professional sports leagues; it’s been a deadly 2021 on city roadways; and more from the weekend

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Scientists worldwide are scrambling to assess the omicron variant's multiple mutations. (Nov. 29)

The ongoing (and again worsening) pandemic is doing its best to put a damper on the holiday season, with experts warning about how the new, highly transmissible omicron variant could wreak havoc across the U.S. in the coming weeks.

In a social media post that went viral, Dan Diamond, a health reporter for the Washington Post, broke down the information he has received in conducting interviews about the looming threat, presenting in a clear-eyed way how he envisions the next couple of months could unfold. 

Diamond writes:

Federal officials are bracing for U.S. infections to skyrocket into January 2022, with numbers that could top 500,000 new cases per day. (The previous peak was 250,000 cases per day in January 2021.) Some experts predict daily case rates that could be much higher, because so many vaccinated Americans are going to test positive, although we may not capture all the data from people taking at-home tests.

Even if only a small percentage of those people need hospital care, it will tax a health system that is already straining under pandemic fatigue and treating cases linked to the older delta variant. It's also going to be a psychological blow after the past two years of fighting the pandemic, and businesses, families and others will surely be racing to adjust plans.

Officials hope that the peak of the omicron wave will be over by early February.

Diamond also noted that early reports that the omicron variant causes a milder form of COVID-19 could be misleading, in that the milder cases are presenting in previously vaccinated and boosted individuals and there’s not enough data to gauge the severity of the disease in the unvaccinated, a group that currently constitutes more than 40 percent of Ohioans

In Franklin County, the Dispatch reported, COVID-19 cases have surged more than 20 percent in the last week.

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The past year was also deadly on Columbus’ roadways, Axios reported, with more people dying in 2021 than any year since 2016. More than half of the 71 people killed were pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists.

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At least sports can still offer some escape from the crushing realities of pandemic life. Or not!

Over the weekend, the Cleveland Cavaliers joined a handful of teams that recently had games postponed due to an NBA-wide coronavirus outbreak, and it's still an open question who will take the field tonight when the Cleveland Browns square off against the Los Angeles Raiders in a game that was initially set to take place Saturday but was pushed back two days as the Browns deal with a massive team outbreak.

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In another instance of the national narrative being undercut by the facts on the ground (see: nobody wants to work anymore), the Dispatch reported that, despite some high-profile incidents, the level of crime Downtown has actually dropped. (Tell that to your Facebook-posting uncle who still insists that “rioters” reduced the city to ash during the social justice protests of summer 2020.) 

This could also be filed alongside a narrative that has increasingly been touted by retailers, who have said thefts are currently at a crisis level — despite the actual data painting a picture to the contrary.

“It’s easy to get attention for sensational claims, however, particularly when they come from official sources. Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Assn., told the San Jose Mercury News that in San Francisco and Oakland alone, businesses lose $3.6 billion to organized retail crime each year,” the Los Angeles Times wrote. “That would mean retail gangs steal nearly 25% of total sales in San Francisco and Oakland combined, which amounted to around $15.5 billion in 2019, according to the state agency that tracks sales tax. Can that be right? In a word: no.”

In reality, the newspaper continued, “the National Retail Federation, estimated in its latest report that losses from organized retail theft average $700,000 per $1 billion in sales — or 0.07% of total sales — an amount roughly 330 times lower than the CRA’s estimate.”

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On Sunday, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin appeared on Fox News and said he was a no vote on Build Back Better, a sweeping climate and social plan that is viewed as a key part of the Biden agenda. Manchin’s statement follows nearly a year of negotiations with the administration where we as a country have become all too familiar with his name and presence. 

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West Coast rapper Drakeo the Ruler was fatally stabbed during a backstage altercation at a Los Angeles music festival on Saturday. He was 28 years old.