The latest strain of the Coronavirus called the Omicron variant, formally known as B.1.1.529, was first discovered in South Africa on Nov. 24. Omicron has been found in at least 50 countries around the world, the U.S. being one of them. The first U.S. state to report a confirmed case was California on Dec. 1, but it has been detected in at least 36 states as of Dec. 15. This number has only increased as time goes on. The spread of Omicron is also the leading cause to the number of coronavirus cases, with more than 50 million reports and 800,000+ deaths.
Scientists are racing to obtain more information about the variant and how it affects the world. This means there is still a lot more research to be done, that will take weeks to gather, before drawing out conclusions. But, here is what we know:
As of now, no research indicates that when infected with Omicron, the symptoms experienced are different from any other variants according to the WHO (World Health Organization). These symptoms are usually mild, like a dry cough or scratchy/sore throat. Cases and hospitalization in South Africa have been on the rise, but it is not clear whether or not those numbers are because of the variant or other aspects.
There is more data needed to know how impactful and severe Omicron actually is, but the variant is found to have a significant number of mutations (30+), making it seem to be more transmissible. Despite this, vaccines and booster shots remain to be the best way to prevent severe diseases and death. Dr. Anthony Fauci mentions that preliminary data shows that “when you get a booster…it raises the level of protection high enough that it then does well against the omicron.”
President Joe Biden addressed the stress felt by most American citizens since the variant’s discovery, saying it is a “cause for concern, not a cause for panic.” Biden also released a new set of procedures on Dec. 2 that will help fight against not just Omicron, but Covid as a whole.
A goal the plan aims for is to get as many people to get vaccinated as possible. One measure they are trying to use is “expanding pharmacy availability through December and reaching out to all eligible customers to get their booster.” Since booster shots are now highly requested, pharmacy partners will open up “broad-based outreach campaigns” and send tons of phone calls, text messages, and emails to inform people how to schedule appointments to get their boosters. Another goal they expect to reach is to keep students safe and schools open. One of the ways they hope to accomplish this is to launch family vaccination clinics all across America. These clinics will provide vaccines for the whole family and boosters to those who are eligible.
Traveling mandates are one thing being changed and focused on too. President Biden restricted flights and travel relating to South Africa to try and slow the spread of Omicron after the WHO named the variant a “variant of concern.” Travelers from abroad that travel by plane will need to show proof of a negative Covid test result that was taken within 24 hours, if they want to be allowed on board starting Dec. 13 as well, even if they are vaccinated.
Starting Dec. 14, NYC is expanding its vaccine mandate by requiring children ages 5-11 to show proof of vaccination to enter gyms, restaurants, and entertainment venues. NYC has lifted its indoor mask mandate too. In a tweet that was posted on Dec. 13, the Governor of New York State, Kathy Hochul stated that “Starting Monday through January 15, businesses will have the option to implement either a vaccine or mask requirement.” This means that masks are required indoors unless the venue already needs proof of full vaccination status. Some other states that are also bringing back their indoor mask mandates are California, Oregon, Illinois, Nevada, Hawaii, and New Mexico.
It’s important to stay up to date with all of the events and news regarding the Coronavirus to prevent more cases and deaths. If not already, get vaccinated and receive the recommended booster shot(s) that follow. Continue to wear masks correctly in places that require them, get tested before and after traveling, and wash hands with soap and water. All of these exercises are the key to stopping the spread of this infectious virus. Protect yourself and others around you. Stay safe and stay informed.