According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading substantially faster than the Delta strain in countries with established community transmission, with the number of cases doubling in 1.5 to 3 days.
Notably, the heavily mutated variant is fast spreading in countries with relatively high levels of population immunity. Still, it is unclear whether this is due to the virus's capacity to evade immunity, inherent greater transmissibility, or a mix of the two.
Read on to find out what the world knows about the Omicron Variant so far, what countries should do to keep their residents safe, and what you can do to stop the spread and protect your family from the spread of this potentially deadly mutant variant.
The Omicron Variant
The Omicron variant of the coronavirus, first discovered in Botswana and South Africa in November, has spread around the world faster than any other known type of coronavirus.
Omicron was initially discovered due to a unique mix of over 50 mutations. Some of these discoveries were present in earlier coronavirus types like Alpha and Beta, and prior research had shown that they might help a coronavirus spread quickly. Other mutations got reported to aid coronaviruses in evading vaccine-induced antibodies.
With that, the World Health Organization declared Omicron a "variant of concern" on November 26 based on those changes and a concerning spike in Omicron cases in South Africa. With this classification, the World Health Organization warned that the worldwide hazards presented by Omicron were extremely significant. Since then, the variant has gotten detected in more than 80 countries, including the United States.
In early December, a California citizen who returned home from South Africa became the first American infected with Omicron. Since then, officials have discovered the variation in at least 38 states. In many parts of the world, Omicron is swiftly gaining domination, demonstrating the potential scientists saw when they originally found it.
According to scientists, cases in the United States, such as those in New York, will double every two to four days. At this rate, it will overtake the popular variety in the country within the next several weeks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on the first 43 cases in the United States on December 10th. Only approximately a third of people infected with Omicron had traveled internationally in the two weeks preceding their test or symptoms. This discovery revealed that Omicron was already spreading from person to person in the United States.
What Countries Can Do
Since WHO identified the Omicron as a Variant of Concern (VOC), governments are encouraged to take the following steps:
- To better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 mutations, increase monitoring and sequencing activities.
- They should submit complete genome sequences and accompanying metadata to a publicly accessible database.
- Initial cases/clusters of VOC infection should get reported to WHO via the IHR mechanism.
- Perform field investigations and laboratory assessments to improve understanding of the potential impacts of the VOC on COVID-19 epidemiology, severity, the effectiveness of public health and social measures, diagnostic methods, immune responses, antibody neutralization, or other relevant characteristics, where capacity exists and in coordination with the international community.
Countries should also continue using risk analysis and a science-based approach to undertake effective public health policies to reduce COVID-19 circulation overall. They need to expand public health and medical capacities to deal with increased cases. WHO provides help and advice to countries regarding both readiness and reaction.
Furthermore, they must quickly address discrepancies in COVID-19 vaccine access to guarantee that vulnerable groups worldwide, including health professionals and the elderly, receive their vaccine doses, as well as equitable access to treatment and diagnostics.
What You Can Do
Individuals are reminded to use proven public health and social measures to reduce their risk of COVID-19, such as hand hygiene, physical distancing, improving indoor ventilation, avoiding crowded spaces, getting vaccinated, and wearing well-fitting masks consistently and religiously, particularly N95 masks.
The gold standard of safety is still N95 respirator masks, which have gotten authorized by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), followed by KN95 masks made by manufacturers on the CDC's whitelist. Surgical masks lag behind N95s and KN95s, and fabric masks lag even farther, although, at this point, cloth masks are a "better than nothing" option.
Finally, the advent of newer COVID variants like Omicron highlights the need to wear masks to fight against pandemic transmission. While there are still uncertainties regarding Omicron vaccines and boosters' effectiveness, the masks used worldwide throughout the pandemic have shown to be equally as effective.
Despite the virus in the particles, masks get designed to block respiratory droplets and aerosols carrying viral particles. Essentially, masks are effective against any disease transferred by droplets or aerosols, and there is no evidence that Omicron is distributed differently than earlier viral strains.
Merilogy offers immediate access to high-quality N95 particulate NIOSH-approved respirators in this context.
Because of Omicron's remarkable doubling rate, it may soon become the prevalent variant in many countries. It could then spread to an unprecedented number of people. Even those who have gotten vaccinated or already had COVID-19 aren’t safe. However, it is unclear how serious Omicron's threat is to anyone who contracts it.
Even if Omicron proves to be milder than other types, it may push hospitals to their limits. Although a reduced percentage of Omicron cases may require hospitalization, there will still be more seriously ill patients to treat if the number of Omicron cases is significantly higher than in past surges. In the United States, Omicron cases will add to the Delta variant's already high levels of hospitalization.
However, there is not an exact science for disease forecasts. More people getting vaccinated and practicing public safety measures like social distancing and mask-wearing, which help control the spread, could modify the variables.Stay at home as much as possible for the time being and wear your Merilogy N95 respirator mask.