The Omicron Surge: Putting a Number on Fear

Dr. Amy Rogers
6 min readDec 22, 2021

What’s your risk of dying of COVID compared to other stuff?

Omicron variant (B.1.529) suddenly and massively out-competes Delta in US COVID isolates. Source: CDC

By Amy Rogers, MD, PhD

I’m getting loads of questions and hearing more pandemic conversation than I’ve heard in months. Here is my first post addressing some of the latest issues. At the top of the list is the omicron surge and what to do about Christmas. There are multiple aspects to this. Today I want to start with quantifying personal risk. This is not intended to ignore community risk, which is hugely important (and I’ll get to that). My goal is to put things in perspective for anyone who is personally afraid of COVID.

My vaccination is up to date but I’m still afraid

The US-made mRNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer are miraculous, on an Apollo moon landing scale of wonder. They are extraordinarily effective at preventing death and severe COVID disease. If you are under age 65 and in reasonable health, being up to date with your COVID vaccination (now the original series plus a booster) means your chance of landing in the ER because of COVID is much smaller than the chance you’ll go there after a car crash-even during a surge.

This is true for the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and all subsequent variants to date, including delta and omicron. My opinion is that this will remain largely true for any future variant as well, because of acquired immunity and because the virus can only change so much without hurting itself.

How much is my risk of dying of COVID?

Let’s try to put a rough number on it, starting with my age group (50–64). Here are some numbers for weekly death rate by age from ordinary stuff:

Source CDC; I divided the annual data from 2019 by 52 to approximate weekly death rates

Deaths from diseases of the heart, Americans age 50–64: 3 (per 100,000 people per week)

Deaths from cancer, Americans age 50–64: 4 (per 100,000 people per week)

Deaths from accidents/unintentional injuries, Americans age 50–64: 1 (per 100,000 people per week)

COVID death rates have fluctuated over a wide range with each wave of the pandemic.

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Dr. Amy Rogers

Amy Rogers, MD, PhD, is a Harvard-educated scientist, novelist, journalist, and educator. She blogs about coronavirus at AmyRogers.com