Omicron — Predictions for 2022 and Beyond

by Cheryl Contee

So far, my predictions around what will happen next in the near term (1–3 quarters ahead) have been dead-on accurate. For example, I predicted among friends and colleagues that a new, more dangerous version of the virus was coming — that turned out to be Delta. I had the unfortunate task of cautioning people that Hot Vax Summer of 2021 was sadly not the end of the pandemic but a lovely break one should enjoy. Folks really didn’t like hearing that but it proved to be true as well. I predicted that a new fall/winter wave of virus would strike in late 2021 and bought upgraded masks and some BinaxNow test kits after Thanksgiving plus purchased a whole row on our holiday travels well ahead of time so that we would have less exposure while flying. I am troubled that I was on target there as well.

Given that I’ve tended to have my finger on the pulse of what’s going to happen next, I’d like to share what I’ve synthesized from all the data coming in. Astonishingly, Omicron has swept America and Europe with blazing, unimaginable speed and infectiousness. When one reads that half of Europe will get Covid in the next 6–8 weeks and Omicron might infect 80% of Florida residents before this surge crests (and that’s from Fox News y’all!) — well, the mind reels to project the consequences. And that’s on top of the fact that 1 out of 3 Americans likely had Covid by the end of 2020 alone. Because Omicron has moved fast, it took me some time to consume enough info from global sources to better understand what might happen next for you, for me, for our families, teams, partners, colleagues and by extension, our global community. Here’s what I’ve got so far.

  1. The fact that people are now catching Covid multiple times, even with vaccinations, is not good news. We continue to be behind Covid’s evolution, not ahead of it. This means that it’s likely a new variant will emerge that effectively erodes or even evades current precautions, protocols, treatments and vaccines. We are already down to one effective monoclonal antibody treatment for Omicron.
  2. Reports that the symptoms of Omicron are described as “mild” are misleading. It has the same virulence as Alpha which you might recall was…not good. It is being categorized as mild because more people are vaccinated against it. The unvaccinated have potentially similar health risks as they did in 2020. That means a lot of people are going to die here in the US and around the world due to Omicron.
  3. Covid will be an ongoing health crisis long after it becomes “endemic” (whatever that even means anymore). Depending on where you live, studies show that no matter the version of Covid you are unlucky enough to get — mild, medium, spicy, extra hot — you have a 25–50% chance of long haul Covid. My son and I got the original flavor of Covid back in Feb 2020 before it was cool. It took me 6 full months to recover and put my inhaler in a drawer. Yet my son and I now have allergy-triggered asthma — his is actually more serious than mine even though he struggled with his original “mild” bout of Covid for only 2 weeks. Our lungs remain damaged 2 YEARS LATER. Covid has a way of depleting your body and burrows in, sometimes causing hidden damage to key organs like the heart and brain. I think that healthcare systems will need to adjust in the long term to treating the impacted health of a significant proportion of citizens, possibly for decades to come. Will Covid be a disease like HIV, herpes, chicken pox or syphilis where it lives on in the body long term only to re-emerge years later in some other form? Only time will tell.
  4. The supply chain issues will worsen yet again. It turns out that it’s important for smooth functioning of systems that people show up for work. The mass sickouts around the country and soon the world are going to put a big old wrench in the works. Omicron hasn’t really hit Asia hardcore yet and when it does — it’s going to be a big problem. Many Asian cities are tightly packed — the proximity of people alone may create a tidal wave of disease en masse. And couple that with the fact that we know Sinovac (one of China’s 2 main vaccines) is known to provide little protection against Omicron and Lunar New Year is coming in early February with families gathering as they do for Christmas — Houston, we are about to have a problem. Sinovac is one of the most widely used vaccines around the world. Stock up now and get your vendor/supplier orders in now — inventory is about to be short, shipping will be delayed, prices for everything will continue to rise and wages will need to keep pace just to retain workers. I’d predict things will be rocky even well into Q2 2022.
  5. Women will continue to bear the brunt of Covid’s economic fallout due in large part to the childcare crisis — whether they are educators, nurses or mothers — or all three for their household. When women are unsupported, this has the potential to have major long term economic damage. Economies need both skilled and unskilled workers. Women buy or influence buying 85% of everything (at least in the U.S. — Source: Forbes 2019). Women even buy over 50% of “traditionally male” products, including automobiles, home improvement products, and consumer electronics. (Source: Lisa Johnson and Andrea Learned, “Don’t Think Pink”) When women are not able to work, everyone’s bottom line and quality of life will take a downturn (even the World Economic Forum acknowledges this). We know that diverse-led companies are more innovative, productive and profitable — subtracting women from the equation means poorer performance of firms worldwide and acutely in developed economies. Any serious recovery plan must focus on creating comprehensive strategies that support women’s ability to be both effective family caregivers AND workers & leaders.
  6. Covid as a volatile and globalized crisis is probably going to be a thing for another 12–18 months at least, given the current patterns at play. 5 or more years of this will reshape societies as we know them and possibly not for the better in the short term, especially in the political and economic arena. Until we approach this situation with full on, worldwide and simultaneous solutions, I fear that we may be trapped in these cycles of sickness and disruption for some time to come. Remember that the current yearly updated flu vaccine is actually an attempt to protect you from a version of that virus that appeared over 100 years ago in 1918. I am more optimistic that change will be forced due to the clear inadequacy of current systems and leadership in the long run. I only hope I live to help birth it and see it come into being for your children and mine.

I might be wrong on some or all of these but as I mentioned — so far, I’ve been basically right on with my felt sense of which way the wind is gonna blow. Share with me what you think is next up and please share this with loved ones and colleagues to help them forecast and prepare for what next whether it’s your work life or your family. Be well and stay smart out there.