What do I need to know about the omicron variant?

In this article:

  • Omicron is more contagious than the original virus that causes COVID-19. Even those who are vaccinated and without symptoms can spread the virus.  

  • Experts agree that getting vaccinated, getting your booster and following safety precautions, including masking, social distancing and following local public health guidance for gathering safely, are the best ways to protect yourself and your family.

  • Providence is monitoring developments and we are prepared to respond to public health needs, as we have done throughout the pandemic. 

Scientists and public health officials are continuing to learn more about the the omicron variant of the coronavirus every day. By late January, the U.S. Centers for Disease control estimated that omicron made up approximately 99.7% of all new infections in the United States.

Omicron was first identified in Botswana and South Africa in November. Shortly after, the World Health Organization (WHO) designating it the omicron variant and naming it "a variant of concern" and since then the variant has been identified in more than 169 countries, with the first 43 cases in United States identified on December 10.  

 What do we know about the omicron variant? 

  • The CDC is working with state and local health officials to monitor the spread of omicron.
  • Omicron is similar to other mutations, but critical differences are worrisome. Evidence suggests that omicron can spread more easily than the original COVID-19 virus. The CDC expects that anyone with an omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated and without symptoms. 
  • In initial cases, South African physicians described symptoms linked to omicron—including a scratchy throat, tiredness, body aches and headache—as extremely mild, noting the absence of classic COVID symptoms like loss of taste and smell.
  • While immunity from previous infections provides protection against severe disease, immunity from previous infections seems to do little to stop omicron. Researchers in England have estimated that the risk of reinfection with omicron is about five times that of other variants. 
  • Researchers are still trying to figure out what omicron will do in the coming months. We do know that the variant is highly transmissible and particularly good at evading immune responses.
  • Even with its milder symptoms and lower number of cases requiring hospitalization, the variant is driving a surge much bigger than those we've previously experienced, with more seriously ill patients requiring treatment. 
What should I do to protect myself and my family from the omicron variant?
  • Get fully vaccinated. Everyone in your household over the age of 5 who is eligible should be fully vaccinated.
  • Get your booster. Vaccinated people 16 and older should receive a booster  

Jan. 25, 2022 update: The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to expand eligibility for booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children and adolescents, 12 to15 years of age. The CDC also now recommends that adolescents 12 to 17 years old should receive booster shots 5 months after their initial Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination series. We will keep you updated as more information becomes available.  

  • Continue taking necessary precautions, including masking (including N95 and KN95) social distancing and following local public health guidance for gathering safely. 
  • If you’re planning to travel, the CDC recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated and following these guidelines for domestic and international travel.
  • Stay safe while doing indoor and outdoor activities with others.
  • If you feel sick and have symptoms of COVID-19, get tested right away, even if you're vaccinated. Early testing is important to help prevent COVID-19 from spreading to our friends, families and community. You should go to a local testing site, not a hospital emergency department, to get tested. Visit your local health department site for more information about COVID-19 testing, locations and guidance.
“The most important things anyone can do to protect themselves from COVID is to get fully vaccinated and then when you’re eligible, get your booster,” says Chris Dale, M.D., chief medical officer of acute care at Swedish. “You should continue to wear a mask and practice appropriate handwashing and social distancing. It’s critically important we follow guidelines.”
What is Providence doing to help protect patients and the community?
  • Providence is monitoring developments and we are prepared to respond to public health needs, as we have done throughout the pandemic. 
  • We continue to work with other partners to offer COVID-19 vaccinations for patients age 5 and older.
  • Preparing our caregivers for an elevated caseload of COVID-19 cases.

“We are making sure we have adequate supplies and doing everything we can to educate the community about how to stay safe," says Evan Sylvester, regional director of infection prevention at Swedish. “Much of the information we have right now is evolving, so we can’t make assumptions on how vaccines will respond, but it is very likely they will provide some measure of protection. Local and state testing facilities will also need to increase our surveillance and sequencing, so we have a better understanding of this variant. And of course, we are continuing to remind people to reduce their risk by wearing masks, practicing good hand hygiene and physical distancing, avoiding crowded spaces, and most importantly, getting vaccinated and getting your booster.”  

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Related resources

Get relevant, up-to-date information on the coronavirus (COVID-19) from Providence.

The power of masks

COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions

I’m fully vaccinated. Can I socialize now?

What you need to know about the new COVID-19 variants

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions. 

 

 

 

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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