Should society shut down again with the Omicron variant?

It’s been 23 months since the U.S. first began shutting down due to the Coronavirus pandemic and during that time, case numbers have gone through dramatically rising and falling stretches. Thankfully, with the development of vaccines, case numbers have generally been on a downward trend—until recently. Just as schools, restaurants, and other businesses began to ease restrictions, the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus began to rip through the country. 

According to News@Northeastern, the official news source of Northeastern University, viruses have a tendency to mutate, much like the way the Coronavirus has. Jared Auclair, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Northeastern, talks about viruses as though they have wishes and goals. He says that the goal of a virus is simply to survive, however possible, and therefore will mutate. But because it’s hard to make perfect copies of itself, the infection rates and the danger associated with each variation will change. In general, the danger of hospitalization and death will decrease as more variations of a virus surface. 

As the Omicron variant has begun to ravage the country, different parts of society have had to face the decision of whether or not to shut down. It’s a difficult judgment call, with many variables to consider. In this article, I’ve compiled reasons to shut down and reasons to stay open. Ultimately, it is the choice of those in charge, but I intend to show the complexities of that decision.

In favor of shutting down:

Coronavirus case numbers have skyrocketed recently, reaching new heights that blow previous records out of the water. According to The New York Times, the original wave of the pandemic (March and April of 2020), rarely reported more than 30,000 cases in a day, nationally. Much later, on Jan. 8, 2021, amid a new and deadly wave of the pandemic, over 300,000 cases were reported, marking a high that was never anticipated to be broken. Even during the climax of the Delta variant, in Aug. and Sept. of 2021, day-to-day infection numbers stayed well below the previous peak, usually hovering around 160,000 cases per day. Now with the Omicron virus, the U.S. has seen daily case numbers that are routinely close to 900,000, and numbers are rising almost every day.

While the Omicron variant is well-known to be less severe than the original virus and the Delta variant, the raw numbers are head-turning. Though most people are either asymptomatic or experience cold-like symptoms, some people, especially the unvaccinated, are taking up hospital beds. Hospitals nationwide are quickly getting overwhelmed yet again, and beds necessary for those who don’t even have the Coronavirus are becoming unavailable, too. 

With case numbers astoundingly high as they are, this reasonably could call for another shutdown, in order to curb the wrath of the Omicron variant. Taking, say, a month to be online for work and school would, no doubt, lower case numbers and deaths. There are, however, many arguments to make that would make a shutdown seem unnecessary.

Against shutting down:

Looking at raw case numbers, a shutdown of society like the one seen in March of 2020 may seem prudent. But other pieces of data must be looked over, too. According to CBS News, about 95% of new Coronavirus cases are the Omicron variant. Since the Omicron variant began to spread, 19,884 individuals at Rutgers University, who had previously tested positive for the Coronavirus, were observed, and about 40% of them reported no symptoms. Since we are now essentially in a battle against the Omicron variant, one would be wise to remember that it is a much less severe form of the Coronavirus.

Most people with the Omicron variant, if not asymptomatic, do not get hospitalized, and for those who do, they rarely die from complications. (Equally important to remember is that those who suffer from the Coronavirus the most are those who are unvaccinated.) While case numbers are at a never-before-seen high, daily death numbers for the Coronavirus are in the area of 2,000 according to the New York Times, which is rather mid-range when the overall pandemic is taken into account. These numbers, while still horrifying, are far below the peaks of Jan. 2021, which often reached over 4,000 deaths per day, nationally. If society were to shut down again, we would mostly be shutting down for fear of cold-like symptoms. 

Meanwhile, the Network Science Institute and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have collaborated to form a model of the future of the Omicron variant, and the data exhibits good news. Most likely, Omicron variant case numbers should decrease as suddenly as they originally increased, and that decrease should occur in mid-Jan. Our current, strange time of the pandemic will end soon, so the widespread panic regarding the Omicron variant, while understandable, has reason to subside. 

Meanwhile, until the variant runs its course, staying vigilant will help to keep the virus at bay, without the necessity of shutting down the country. Michael Duffy, the opinions editor for The Washington Post, recently wrote an article outlining the very basic steps that can be taken to curb the effects of the virus, without shutting down. The bottom line of his article: wear a mask when in a crowded, indoor setting. Simple as that. This basic step will maximize bed space in hospitals, while avoiding an economic shutdown. Duffy’s right. There’s no need to become anti-maskers, but there’s also no necessity to shut down. 

Of course, Duffy’s article is for those who have gotten vaccinated. Getting vaccinated is, far and away, the best way to protect everyone from the Coronavirus. According to, only 62.5% of Americans have received two doses of a vaccine. Astoundingly, over 12% of Americans got only one dose, and, for whatever reason, never showed up to get their second. While one dose of a vaccine can help, getting both of the original two doses will be significantly more effective in staving off the deadly virus. 

It should be noted, nonetheless, that of those who have not gotten vaccinated, a small chunk of people are well-intentioned and cannot get vaccinated due to a compromised immune system, forcing an allergy to components in the vaccines. Those people are blameless, but it means that for everyone else, it is extra critical to get vaccinated and to continue wearing masks when a setting calls for it. 

Ultimately, the decision to shut down schools and businesses will come down to the higher-ups who will look at the same data displayed here, and will, to the best of their ability, make a decision based on health, efficiency, economics, and other factors. There is no right answer. Different places and settings have different pieces of data that they must consider, and when it comes down to it, priorities will play a part in the decisions that will be made.