That COVID feeling is back: Omicron Edition

Taylor Nichols, MD
3 min readDec 5, 2021

I’ve tried to be as reasonable yet appropriately cautious and evidence-based as possible throughout this pandemic — in my daily life, in my clinical practice, and with all of you on here. I’ve learned so much from all of you as well, and I hope you all also keep me honest.

I remember when we were first hearing about a viral pneumonia in China at the beginning of 2020 and all of the subsequent fear and misguided reassurance and all of the frightening unknowns.

I was at the hospital where the first case of community transmission was detected in the United States while doing a health policy fellowship at UC Davis. I remember the day we all found out, riding my bike home with racing thoughts about what would come next.

There was an impending sense of doom.

We had seen the first waves devastate cities and regions like Seattle and NYC and northern Italy, bracing for the same wave to come to us. Some of my friends and colleagues like Nicolas Sawyer, MD, MBA went out to work on the front lines in NY and hearing about their experience was heart-wrenching and terrifying. Fortunately, we responded quickly and strongly enough in California and especially the Bay Area — a region that would have been highly susceptible to a similar wave — which helped prevent the same happening.

Then we got absolutely battered by Alpha throughout fall and winter, but thought we might be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel when highly effective and safe vaccines were developed so rapidly. Numbers started declining sharply and we developed a false sense of security.

So many of us on the front lines were finally able to breathe, after fearing for ourselves and our families and our communities for so long.

Then Delta showed up and everything changed.

I’ll never forget the feeling of seeing that first chest x-ray with the classic multi-focal pneumonia of COVID during the early summer, as that same impending sense of doom came racing back.

COVID was back, and we were going to do this all over again.

We haven’t reached the levels we were seeing at the lowest point before Delta hit us.

We are still seeing patients with COVID in the emergency department and so many unvaccinated patients, with so much disinformation spreading.

We haven’t had a chance to breathe yet this time, but that same impending sense of doom is back again.

We can see the numbers going up again. Omicron is already here, the travel bans are pointless. We are going for another round that could spread in higher numbers than prior surges.

Fortunately, disease caused by Omicron in vaccinated people appears to be less severe in vaccinated individuals, especially after additional or “booster” doses. But unvaccinated people will likely be hit hard and, sadly, I expect to be seeing patients sick and dying from COVID all over again.

Please, do everything you can to protect yourselves, your families, and your communities: get vaccinated, including your third dose, wear better masks — lose the cloth masks and wear at least surgical masks if not N95s indoors — and get tested before possibly exposing others.

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Taylor Nichols, MD

Humanist. Emergency Medicine and AddictiEmergency + Addiction Medicine | Health policy and advocacy | Health tech and innovation