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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Omicron variant doesn't cause as much severe illness as other variants have, but its "mild" symptoms can still be pretty unpleasant.

The big picture: The way health care professionals and doctors differentiate between "mild" and "severe" illness may not align with a layperson's understanding of those terms.

"To a health care professional, 'mild' means you're not getting hospitalized," said Megan Ranney, academic dean at the Brown University School of Public Health.

  • But, she said: "Omicron symptoms can range from absolutely no symptoms to a really mild cold to something where you are in bed with shakes and chills, and have a horrible cough and are fatigued and headachy for weeks. Those are all 'mild.'"
  • A "severe," illness means you'd likely have symptoms such as very low oxygen levels, kidney damage and heart impairment, she said.

What we're watching: Omicron is causing a lot less severe illness than previous variants, but a "mild" case can still require about a week away from work, especially in front-line jobs.

  • And because so many people have gotten infected in such a short time, it's leaving schools, airlines, and other businesses — including, critically, hospitals — with large numbers of workers out sick simultaneously, The Atlantic reported.
  • Then there's the matter of long COVID. A study published Thursday in Nature Immunology found ongoing, sustained inflammatory responses following even mild-to-moderate COVID-19 cases.

What they're saying: "It's going to be a messy few weeks. I don’t think there’s any way around it," said Joseph Allen, a professor of public health at Harvard, per The Atlantic.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron — Deaths are climbing as cases skyrocket.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: Vivek Murthy calls SCOTUS vaccine mandate block "a setback for public health" — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— — CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: West Virginia governor feeling "extremely unwell" after positive test — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers — America struggles to keep schools open
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
  7. Variant tracker
Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

British national named in Colleyville synagogue standoff

A law enforcement vehicle sits near the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on Jan. 16. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

British national Malik Faisal Akram took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue outside Fort Worth on Saturday, the FBI said in a statement.

State of play: Authorities had initially declined to release the name of the 44-year-old suspect or identify the hostages, all adults, though police chief Michael Miller confirmed that one of those held was Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who leads the congregation.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron — Deaths are climbing as cases skyrocket.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: Vivek Murthy calls SCOTUS vaccine mandate block "a setback for public health" — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— — CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: West Virginia governor feeling "extremely unwell" after positive test — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers — America struggles to keep schools open
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
  7. Variant tracker