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Omicron v. delta: Battle of coronavirus mutants is critical

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Omicron v. delta: Battle of coronavirus mutants is critical

As the omicron coronavirus variant spreads in southern Africa and pops up in countries all around the world, scientists are anxiously watching a battle play out that could determine the future of the pandemic. Can the latest competitor to the world-dominating delta overthrow it?

Some scientists, poring over data from South Africa and the United Kingdom, suggest omicron could emerge the victor.

“It’s still early days, but increasingly, data is starting to trickle in, suggesting that omicron is likely to outcompete delta in many, if not all, places,” said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, who monitors variants for a research collaboration led by Harvard Medical School.

But others said Monday it’s too soon to know how likely it is that omicron will spread more efficiently than delta, or, if it does, how fast it might take over.

“Especially here in the U.S., where we’re seeing significant surges in delta, whether omicron’s going to replace it I think we’ll know in about two weeks,” said Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Many critical questions about omicron remain unanswered, including whether the virus causes milder or more severe illness and how much it might evade immunity from past COVID-19 illness or vaccines.

On the issue of spread, scientists point to what’s happening in South Africa, where omicron was first detected. Omicron’s speed in infecting people and achieving near dominance in South Africa has health experts worried that the country is at the start of a new wave that may come to overwhelm hospitals.

The new variant rapidly moved South Africa from a period of low transmission, averaging less than 200 new cases per day in mid-November, to more than 16,000 per day over the weekend. Omicron accounts for more than 90% of the new cases in Gauteng province, the epicenter of the new wave, according to experts. The new variant is rapidly spreading and achieving dominance in South Africa’s eight other provinces.

“The virus is spreading extraordinarily fast,” said Willem Hanekom, director of the Africa Health Research Institute. “If you look at the slopes of this wave that we’re in at the moment, it’s a much steeper slope than the first three waves that South Africa experienced. This indicates that it’s spreading fast and it may therefore be a very transmissible virus.”

But Hanekom, who is also co-chair the South African COVID-19 Variants Research Consortium, said South Africa had such low numbers of delta cases when omicron emerged, “I don’t think we can say” it out-competed delta.

Scientists say it’s unclear whether omicron will behave the same way in other countries as it has in South Africa. Lemieux said there are already some hints about how it may behave; in places like the United Kingdom, which does a lot of genomic sequencing, he said, “we’re seeing what appears to be a signal of exponential increase of omicron over delta.”

In the United States, as in the rest of the world, “there’s still a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “But when you put the early data together, you start to see a consistent picture emerge: that omicron is already here, and based on what we’ve observed in South Africa, it’s likely to become the dominant strain in the coming weeks and months and will likely cause a surge in case numbers.”

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Full schedule of concerts planned for Tanglewood this summer

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Full schedule of concerts planned for Tanglewood this summer

The Boston Symphony Orchestra announced Thursday that its summer home in Tanglewood will host a full schedule of concerts this year for the first time since 2019.

The 2022 season that runs from June 17 through Sept. 4 will include a 90th birthday celebration for John Williams with conductor Ken-David Masur leading the orchestra and featuring guest artists including Yo-Yo Ma and Branford Marsalis; a Boston Pops tribute to Stephen Sondheim; James Taylor’s traditional July Fourth show; and the popular artists series that includes Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band, Brandi Carlile, Judy Collins and Earth, Wind & Fire.

The lineup includes eight world and American premieres and 28 works by living composers, as well as 21 artists in their Tanglewood or BSO debuts.

Boston Symphony Orchestra Music Director Andris Nelsons will lead nine programs, including the July 8-10 Opening Night program of Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 with piano soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.”

“The 2022 Tanglewood season is filled with so many wonderful styles of composition, performed by the most extraordinary musicians working today, among them our very own Boston Symphony Orchestra,” Nelsons said in a statement.

Tanglewood, located in the towns of Lenox and Stockbridge in the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts, has been the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1937.

The 2020 season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, and last year’s schedule was shortened.

Ozawa Hall and the Linde Center for Music and Learning, which were both closed in 2020 and 2021, will reopen this year for smaller audiences to take in recitals, chamber music and guest ensemble performances.

Given the ongoing pandemic, the BSO said it would announce updated health and safety measures closer to start of the summer season.

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Ticker: Sale of Table Talk Pie headquarters final; Home sales fall, available properties at record low

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Ticker: Sale of Table Talk Pie headquarters final; Home sales fall, available properties at record low

A former Worcester bakery building that made its last pie earlier this month has been sold for more than $4.5 million to a developer planning to build housing and retail space at the site.

The deal to sell the 3.9-acre site in Worcester that had served as Table Talk Pies headquarters since 1924 to Boston Capital Development LLC was first announced months ago, but was finalized on Wednesday, The Telegram & Gazette reported.

The developers are planning a new building at the site that will include about 350 units of both affordable and market-rate housing and street level retail, according to a statement from NAI Glickman Kovago & Jacobs.

Table Talk Pies, meanwhile, has moved to new headquarters in the city that will also serve as a bakery, distribution facility, and for research and development. The company bakes more than 250 million pies annually, according to its website.

Home sales fall with available properties at a record low

Sales of previously occupied homes fell in December for the first time in four months as available houses fell to the lowest level in more than two decades.

Existing home sales dropped 4.6% last month from November, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of nearly 6.2 million, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday.

Demand remains healthy, the group said, with median prices jumping nearly 16% from a year ago to $358,000. The number of houses for sale slumped to just 910,000 in December, the fewest since records began in 1999.

“It’s very hard for sales to meaningfully grow when there’s just not that much available to buy,” said Kwame Donaldson, senior economist for real estate website Zillow.

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Broncos’ coaching search moves along with Kevin O’Connell, Brian Callahan interviews

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Broncos’ coaching search moves along with Kevin O’Connell, Brian Callahan interviews

Broncos general manager George Paton and team executives checked another time zone off their traveling box Thursday, heading to Los Angeles to interview Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell after conducting a virtual meeting with Cincinnati offensive coordinator Brian Callahan.

Since Jan. 13, Paton and Co. have flown from Denver to Detroit to Green Bay to Denver to Dallas to Providence, R.I., to Philadelphia to Los Angeles.

Callahan and O’Connell were the eighth and ninth candidates interviewed by the Broncos. Next up is Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy on Friday.

Like Green Bay assistants Nathaniel Hackett and Luke Getsy, who were interviewed last week, Callahan and O’Connell are non-play calling coordinators.

Callahan, 37, was up first, two days before Cincinnati plays its first AFC Divisional playoff game in 31 years when it visits top-seeded Tennessee.

A Broncos assistant from 2010-15, Callahan moved on to coach quarterbacks in Detroit (2016-17) and Oakland (2018) before coach Zac Taylor hired him as the Bengals’ offensive coordinator in ’19.

The Bengals have improved from two to 10 wins over three years and from 29th to 13th in scoring this year.

Callahan told reporters this week it has been “really easy,” to keep his attention toward the Titans game.

“My focus is 100% on this game and to our players; there is no other focus for me,” he said. “Anything I do outside of that framework, it’s on my own time late at night (or) early in the morning. These (interviews) are things you slowly prepare for over time and you get a chance to collect your thoughts.

“All of these things are personal accolades and it’s because the team has had success and you get individual benefit from the collective success and that’s certainly where I’m at right now. It’s an honor to be involved in a process like (the Broncos’).”

Callahan is the son of Bill Callahan, previously the head coach of the Raiders (reaching the Super Bowl after the 2002 season) and Nebraska and currently the Cleveland Browns’ offensive line coach.

Before joining the Broncos in 2010, Brian Callahan worked as a graduate assistant at UCLA and two years as a California high school coach. In five years, he had three titles with the Broncos: Coaching assistant (2010), offensive quality control coach (2011-12) and offensive assistant (2013-15). After the February 2016 Super Bowl win, he departed for Detroit to work with offensive coordinator and former Broncos assistant Jim Bob Cooter.

With the Raiders, Callahan coached quarterback Derek Carr, who passed for 4,049 yards, the first of a streak of four consecutive 4,000-yard seasons.

This year for the Bengals, quarterback Joe Burrow finished with 4,611 yards (sixth in the league), 34 touchdowns (eighth) and a 108.3 passer rating (second).

O’Connell, 36, played 40 games at quarterback for San Diego State and was a third-round draft pick by New England (No. 94 overall); in the first round, the Patriots selected Jerod Mayo, who interviewed with the Broncos on Wednesday.

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