Just when you started to feel more secure going about your daily business, yet another variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus rears its ugly head. The omicron variant is making headlines and causing new rounds of worldwide restrictions.
The foremost question on everyone’s minds is how this new strain will affect them. Here are four things to know about the omicron variant and tips for staying safe.
Is It More Transmissible or Severe?
According to the official World Health Organization (WHO) website, it remains unknown if the omicron variant is more transmissible than other strains. However, Dr. Jeremy Luban, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, says it’s likely that this variant is more likely to pass from person to person than delta. However, he also cautions that the lack of data means there is much science simply doesn’t know yet.
One transmissibility concern revolves around the possibility of false negatives on tests, allowing individuals to think they’re safe and unwittingly spreading the virus to others. Although investigations to date suggest a low probability, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a statement that they will continue to review and adjust course as needed. The possibility raises an ugly specter in regions with a laissez-faire approach to enacting restrictions like mask requirements.
Is the omicron variant more likely to kill you? Perhaps, but scientists don’t have enough information to answer this question definitively. Preliminary research out of South Africa, where the strain originated, suggests increased hospitalization. However, this trend may result from surges in severe illness overall, not necessarily omicron severity. The bottom line: Any COVID strain can be deadly, so please take precautions.
Do Vaccines Work Against It?
One of the best ways to protect yourself against severe illness from any COVID strain is to get vaccinated. However, it’s unknown how well the present vaccines protect against omicron.
Stephane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, one of the principal manufacturers of vaccines, believes existing models may be less effective. She says they would need 90 days to create a product tailored to this new strain. Pfizer is likewise working on a dose formulated to be more protective against the omicron variant.
Should you postpone a booster shot if you’re already vaccinated and wait on a new formulation? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all adults aged 18 and over should get a booster if they are two months out of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine or six months from their last dose of any of the others.
What New Measures Are Countries Enacting?
If you were planning an overseas trip, you might want to check extra carefully for new restrictions before heading to the airport. The Biden Administration has banned travel from South Africa and several surrounding nations and enacted a new restriction requiring a negative COVID test just one day before boarding a plane.
Other countries, such as Germany, have similarly tightened travel restrictions. If you’re a trekker on a shoestring, you might want to consider postponing your trip. Otherwise, you could find yourself spending more time overseas without money enough to last you.
What Should People Do to Stay Safe?
What measures should you take to stay safe amid the omicron variant? Many of the existing COVID precautions continue to hold.
1. Wear a Mask
Mask-wearing remains one of the best ways to reduce the spread of infectious diseases. Please ensure yours covers your mouth and nose and wear one in all enclosed public spaces — even if your jurisdiction lacks such a requirement. Such coverings offer you some protection while showing respect for others who may have conditions that put them at elevated risk of severe infection.
2. Continue Social Distancing
As much as you might want to hug your running group members, it’s best to refrain for now. Please continue to stay at least six feet apart from people who don’t share your household.
3. Practice Proper Hygiene
Hand washing is another excellent way to slow disease spread — not just of omicron, but anything contagious. Continue singing “Happy Birthday” twice through while sudsing up and carrying hand sanitizer on your keychain for times when you can’t get to a sink.
4. Drink More Water
As water passes over your teeth, it helps remove bacteria and lingering food particles. While such measures won’t necessarily keep you from getting COVID, they help keep your immune system in peak working order.
5. Improve Your Diet
Another way to boost your natural immune response is to eat more plant-based foods rich in phytonutrients. Citrus fruits and red peppers are excellent sources of vitamin C. Dark, leafy greens possess beta carotene and B vitamins. Natural sources of zinc and other crucial minerals like magnesium and selenium include nuts and seeds.
6. Spend More Time Outdoors
While you still need to avoid crowds, you’re less likely to catch nearly any infectious disease outdoors versus inside. Why? Bacteria and viruses can linger in HVAC systems, and poor ventilation can result in germs staying concentrated in a tiny area. Plus, exposure to sunlight helps your body produce natural vitamin D.
7. Get Vaccinated
If you haven’t yet gotten vaccinated, please do so. Even if the current options don’t fully prevent the omicron variant, they offer some protection. Plus, it bears repeating — any COVID-19 strain is potentially deadly.
8. Avoid High-Risk Activities If Medically Vulnerable
Much remains unknown about the omicron variant. If you have a medical condition that puts you at an elevated risk of severe complications from infection, you may wish to cancel or postpone any travel plans. You may also want to carefully consider where and how you spend the coming holidays.