Just as the commotion following the discovery of the Delta variant of COVID-19 began to settle down, a new variant with the potential to catapult the world back into global lockdowns has been identified. First found in Botswana and South Africa, this new variant has been named Omicron. New cases of the Omicron variant have appeared far outside of the countries it initially developed in, including in Britain, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands, (New York Times, 2021). No cases have been found in the United States, however, the possibility of the variant spreading does remain.
The reason that scientists and health officials believe the variant to be potentially dangerous is that it contains an unusually high number of mutations. This may mean that even those that have been fully or partially vaccinated are still susceptible to catching this variant of COVID-19. However, the public is being urged to not panic yet, as there is not yet a reason to believe that Omicron is any more dangerous than the Delta variant- which was more easily transmissible than other existing variations of COVID-19 and in some cases, led to more severe illness. Whether or not Omicron will also be easily transmissible or resistant to the vaccines that have been developed so far is currently unknown.
Some countries have barred incoming travelers from southern African countries, and others have banned foreign travelers from entering the country at all, including Israel, Japan, and Morroco. The World Health Organization has officially recognized Omicron as a Variant of Concern, and has recommended certain actions for countries to take. Some of these actions include, “[…] enhancing surveillance and sequencing of cases; sharing genome sequences on publicly available databases, such as GISAID; reporting initial cases or clusters to WHO; performing field investigations and laboratory assessments to better understand if Omicron has different transmission or disease characteristics, or impacts effectiveness of vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics or public health and social measures.”. (WHO, 2021). The World Health Organization is continuing to urge countries to continue implementing public health and safety measures, and to continue ensuring that COVID-19 vaccines are accessible to everyone, especially communities that are particularly vulnerable.
Individuals are encouraged to continue social distancing and maintaining a distance of approximately one meter from another, wearing a well-fitted mask, and continue practicing other safety measures. So what can we as a community do to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in the case that the Omicron variant does reach the United States? We should continue to properly wear masks indoors, and consider wearing masks outdoors if public areas are crowded. Wash your hands and use hand sanitizer often, and wipe down surfaces that come into contact with others. If you haven’t yet gotten the vaccine, remember that it is free and that it is safe to get. If you have gotten the vaccine, encourage others around you to get it as well. At Frontier Regional, you can participate in weekly pool testing.
More information about the Omicron variant will be available in the coming weeks, as scientists conduct more research and are able to observe the cases that have been found thus far. While there is no need to panic, remember to use caution and be prepared to take the necessary measures to keep yourself and the people around you safe and healthy.