What is Known About Omicron Variant and How to Protect Yourself

With the holidays upon us and the concerning spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, there’s growing anxiety along with many questions about getting boosted, tested and exactly what precautions to take. Omicron has rapidly become the dominant variant nationwide, representing 73 percent of new cases, according to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The one thing that is most certain about Omicron is its ability to spread faster than the Delta variant, the previous dominant strain. Early indications are that Omicron many not present with symptoms that are more serious than those associated with Delta, but there is much uncertainty about severity.

Once crucial certainty: Being fully vaccinated and boosted offer robust protection against severe illness or hospitalization from Omicron.

“Studies show that the booster shot does generate a higher level of neutralizing antibodies,” explains Madeline Camejo, M.S., Pharm.D., chief pharmacy officer and vice president of pharmacy services for Baptist Health South Florida. “And they found that because Omicron reduces the efficacy of the two-dose COVID vaccine, that the booster shot can restore significant levels of protection.”

The CDC urges the public to wear masks and practice social distancing outside of households for any holiday gathering or event. Here’s more from the CDC on Safer Ways to Celebrate Holidays.

Here are common questions about Omicron and the latest answers from the CDC:

How easily does Omicron spread?

Based on “doubling rates” — or how soon cases double in places with community transmission — the Omicron variant spreads more easily than the original virus and the previously dominant Delta variant. Exactly how easily Omicron spreads compared to Delta remains unknown. The CDC expects that anyone with Omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms.

Will Omicron cause more severe illness?

More data are needed to know if Omicron infections, and especially reinfections and breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated, cause more severe illness or death than infection with other variants. Public health officials urge everyone to get fully vaccinated, and those who are already fully vaccinated to get their boosters.

Will vaccines work against Omicron?

Initial reports seem to indicate that current vaccines protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant. However, breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated are likely to occur. With other variants, like Delta, vaccines have remained effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. The CDC states that the emergence of Omicron further emphasizes the importance of vaccination and boosters.

What is the fastest way to get tested?

COVID-19 self-tests — also known as home tests or over-the-counter tests — is a risk-reduction measure that can protect you and others by reducing the chances of spreading COVID, according to the CDC. These tests can be taken at home or anywhere, regardless of vaccination status or whether you have symptoms, and are easy to use for quick results, the CDC says. They are available widely at major retail pharmacies.

What about testing before or after the Holidays?

The CDC urges self-testing before joining indoor gatherings with others who are not in your household. A positive self-test result means that you have an infection and should avoid indoor gatherings to reduce the risk of spreading disease. A negative self-test result means that you may not have an infection. Repeating the test with at least 24 hours between tests “will increase the confidence that you are not infected,” the CDC states. If someone in your group tests positive, you should self-test at least three days after the initial contact with the person who tested positive.

If you test positive, what should you do?

If you’re in public or around people when you find out that you tested positive, put on a mask immediately. Then isolate yourself as quickly as possible, even if you don’t have symptoms. The CDC recommends isolating for 10 days after you test positive. If possible, stay away from people you live with, especially those who are at higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19.

Will treatments work against Omicron?

Scientists are working to determine how well existing treatments for COVID-19 work. Based on the changed genetic make-up of Omicron, some treatments are likely to remain effective while others may be less effective.

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