By Wilson Walker

PLEASANT HILL (KPIX 5) – Scientists know it’s more transmissible, but it appears to be less dangerous than delta. It may sound like a bit of a paradox, but health experts say omicron might be just the right variant to boost collective immunity.

“Reading and listening to coverage about how much more contagious Omicron is than Delta,” said Katie Jagoe, arriving for a COVID-19 test in Pleasant Hill. “With the holidays, we’re planning on getting together with family.”

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The latest variant is driving a run on tests and canceling more than a few holiday parties.

“Yes, we have, several,” said Chuck McCune of his canceled parties in San Francisco. “The people they are inviting, some of them they don’t know. So therefore they don’t feel secure with it.”

Health experts say there may be a silver lining in the omicron surge. It’s going to touch a lot of people, and it probably won’t make them very sick.

“If, in fact, it is relatively benign,” said Marin County Health officer Dr. Matt Willis. “So let’s say it’s a much less severe illness and the rate of people becoming hospitalized who are infected is much lower than delta.”

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Willis said, for the vaccinated, encountering the variant might simply produce a mild immune response – not unlike a booster.

“It’s almost like a vaccine,” Willis said. “It provides a layer of immunity, across the entire population.”

“Even though we are boosted already, and we will not necessarily be susceptible, we are going to get exposed to it and that is going to kick our immunity up even more,” sid UCSF Epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford. “We don’t have to get infected to get our immunity boosted.”

And that could help push the Bay Area towards greater virus protection, without much in the way of a surge in hospitalizations.

“It boosts immunity way up, across the area, and in the spring we walk out of this and don’t look back,” Rutherford told KPIX 5. “But that’s an exceptionally optimistic scenario.”

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This all depends on how populations, vaccinated or not, respond to a large number of omicron cases. Do hospitalizations and deaths follow in large numbers? That is what experts are now watching closely around the world.