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Why omicron may be causing less severe disease than delta

Dr. Costi Sifri is UVa Health’s director of hospital epidemiology.

Is the omicron variant of the coronavirus causing less severe disease among patients than delta did? UVa Health hosted a virtual press conference on Friday with an update on omicron. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

Dr. Costi Sifri, UVa Health’s director of hospital epidemiology, said that earlier in the pandemic, around 20% of their patients who tested positive for COVID were asymptomatic, and had come to the hospital for other issues. Now, with Omicron, that describes about two-thirds of their COVID-positive patients.

COSTI SIFRI: And that's kind of a reversal of the ratio that we were seeing previously.

The New York Times reported this week that a new study of 70,000 COVID patients in California showed that omicron infections were half as likely to send people to the hospital as delta, which corroborates similar findings from studies in South Africa, the U.K., and Denmark.

SIFRI: Is omicron a marker that this virus is going to naturally evolve and become less virulent? We don't know yet. It is too early to tell … While it's more adept at replicating quickly in the upper respiratory passages, so we're able to transmit the virus very effectively and very efficiently, it also appears, pretty convincingly, to not replicate as well in the lower respiratory tract, in the lungs, and perhaps that's why we're seeing less severe disease.

He said we can't be certain the same will be true for future variants.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.