As the COVID-19 Omicron variant spreads in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is working with state and local public health officials to monitor the spread of virus. As of Dec. 20, 2021, Omicron had been detected in most states and territories and was rapidly increasing the proportion of COVID-19 cases it is causing.
As with any new covid mutation, researchers are still studying and learning about the omicron variant.
What do we know so far?
• The COVID-19 Omicron variant is highly contagious, even more contagious than the delta variant. Researchers say this is because it takes less viral load for contagion. So while exposure to an infected person for less than 15 minutes was not likely to be enough for transmission with the original COVID-19 virus, much shorter periods of exposure can result in transmission of omicron. According to a study led by researchers from the LKS Faculty of Medicine at The University of Hong Kong, Omicron SARS-CoV-2 infects and multiplies 70 times faster than the delta variant and original SARS-CoV-2 in human bronchus, which may explain why omicron may transmit faster between humans than previous variants.
• Because the omicron variant is so contagious, masks are recommended for everyone – vaccinated and unvaccinated – in places where you cannot maintain six feet of distance from those not in your immediate household.
• You may want to rethink and upgrade your masks. While cloth masks provided some protection against other variants, omicron requires a much smaller virus load for infection. When the pandemic started, officials asked the public not to buy N95 or surgical masks because the scarce supply was needed for medical professionals. More N95 and surgical masks – made in the USA – are now available. Some hospitals such as Mayo Clinic now require those who enter to wear surgical, N95 or KN95 masks. Beware of fake N95 masks sold online. Real N95 masks are certified by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The approval number on your mask should begin with “TC.” The mask should also have a NIOSH logo printed on it.
• Wear masks properly to completely cover your mouth and nose. A tight fit is essential. There should be no gaps between the edge of the mask and your skin. Choose masks with wire that can be bent around the nose to ensure a tight fit. A mask that falls down under your nose does not protect you and it does not protect others from any virus you may expel when you breathe.
• According to the CDC, vaccination is the most effective way to avoid hospitalization and death from covid. Full vaccination now includes a booster shot. Vaccinated people can still catch the virus but they are less likely to become seriously ill or die. Most breakthrough cases have mild or no symptoms.
• Omicron appears to produce less severe symptoms than the delta variant, however, it still makes some people sick enough to require hospitalization. Of concern: Some researchers have found the monoclonal antibody treatments which were effective in treating the delta variant may not be effective with omicron.
• Omicron symptoms are different than symptoms of the other variants. While symptoms of earlier variants commonly included coughing and fever, omicron symptoms may start with a sore throat, runny nose and headache.
• You don’t know if you have covid unless you are tested. Omicron shares early symptoms with other viruses such as the common cold.
• Home tests are now available at most pharmacies. If your tests is positive, consult your doctor. The home test will not tell you which variant you have. A lab test will. Contact your county heath department for information on free lab testing in your area.
• Hospitalizations in Florida related to covid have increased in recent weeks. Most of those who become sick enough to require hospitalization are unvaccinated.
• While the omicron variant appears to be less severe than delta, people are still dying from covid. Last week, Florida Department of Health added 162 deaths to the state’s total covid fatalities. Both the omicron and delta variants are circulating in Florida.
• The omicron variant has multiple mutations and is different than earlier variants. Researchers say surviving an earlier variant of COVID-19 does not provide immunity to the omicron variant. Those who contracted and survived an earlier variant have become ill enough with omicron to require hospitalization.
• The CDC has changed the required quarantine time for vaccinated persons who test positive for covid. Those who test positive but have no symptoms may isolate for five days, followed by five days of wearing a mask in public.
• If you are sick – whether you have covid or not – you should stay home, health officials advise. If children are sick, parents should keep them home from school. (That was true even before the pandemic.)
• Everyone should continue to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly. (This was also recommended even before the pandemic. In the 1980s, a study by the U.S. Army found requiring soldiers to wash their hands at least five times a day reduced the number of soldiers on sick call.)
To find a testing site near you, go online to https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/testing-sites/
Covid vaccinations are free. To find a vaccination site near you, go online to https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/vaccines/vaccine-locator/