A string of new studies has confirmed the silver lining of the omicron variant: Even as case numbers soar to records, the numbers of severe cases and hospitalizations have not.
"We're now in a totally different phase," said Monica Gandhi, an immunologist at the University of California, San Francisco.
"The virus is always going to be with us, but my hope is this variant causes so much immunity that it will quell the pandemic."- she said.
The omicron variant was discovered in South Africa just over a month ago, and experts caution that there is still plenty of time for the situation to change.
But data from the past week suggest that a combination of widespread immunity and numerous mutations have resulted in a virus that causes far less severe disease than previous iterations.
five separate studies in the past week suggested that the variant does not infect the lungs as easily as previous variants.
In Hong Kong, scientists studied a small number lung tissue samples from patients collected during surgery and found that omicron grew more slowly in those samples than other variants did
"It used to use two different pathways to get into cells, and now because of all the changes to the spike protein, it's preferring one of those pathways," she said.
"It seems to prefer to infect the upper respiratory tract rather than the lungs. "I hope this variant creates profound immunity in the population," she said. "It will hopefully end the pandemic."