The Omicron Variant: What You Need To Know

14 Jan 2022

2022 began on a somewhat rocky note. Though it looked like things were going back to normal, news of the omicron variant spreading globally delayed it yet again. A surge in cases was expected to happen over the recent holiday season. However, the omicron variant proved to be a much different strain compared to others on record. The Philippines, in particular, was hit badly by the surge, with daily COVID cases surpassing previously recorded highs.

This tells us two things. The pandemic is far from over and people need to be more vigilant and careful than before. Because of the more transmissible nature of the omicron variant, we have had to rethink and readjust how we approach things.

An Overview of the omicron variant

The World Health Organization classified the omicron strain as a “variant of concern” last November 2021. Compared to previous variants on record, omicron is able to spread at a much more rapid rate. This contagious nature makes it much harder to control transmission and that the chances of catching the virus are much higher than before. This also means there will be less room for error in treating it and a greater need for action and response. 

What You Can Do

Despite its highly contagious nature, health experts say that the common practices in prevention still remain the same. Vaccinations and social distancing are still effective ways of protecting yourself and your community. Local hospitals and doctors could greatly stand to benefit from having their facilities not operate at full capacity. A booster shot will also decrease your chances of catching COVID. Dr Egon Ozer, assistant professor at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, says that boosters give your antibodies the extra oomph it needs to fight the virus. Testing for COVID is also something that can help curb the spread of omicron in communities. They can help quickly identify cases and take precautionary measures should the need arise. 

Sanitizing commonly touched surfaces can help decrease the spread of COVID.

Experts have also stressed the importance of wearing the right mask when out in public. According to the LA Times, N95, KN95 and KF94 masks are the most effective due to their tight fit and coverage. Because of COVID’s airborne nature , cloth masks are not considered as effective because of gaps that can let air inside. Experts recommend wearing a surgical mask underneath a cloth one to increase its effectiveness.

Overall, experts believe the fundamentals of protection against COVID have not drastically changed. Ozer believes that omicron’s contagious nature does not make wearing masks or social distancing less effective. Rather, it is an indication to redouble your efforts as “we’re not out of the woods yet.” 

Closing Thoughts

Between the global surge and omicron being much easier to catch, all of this can be overwhelming to take in. For some, the rising case numbers feel like we’ve gone back to the start of the pandemic. However, even with the new challenges brought by omicron, sticking to the good practices of masking and distancing will continue to be the best way to avoid it. 

A common misconception is that people should resign themselves to catching the virus because of how contagious it is. Some have deemed it as a “mild” variant, which simply is not the case at all. It’s impossible to determine how you can catch the virus, nor does it choose who to infect. Whether or not it is easy to catch, people must remain vigilant and become complacent in protecting themselves and others. As noted earlier by Dr. Ozer, now is the time to redouble efforts.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the COVID technical lead for the WHO, stressed at a recent press conference that curbing the spread is a community effort.  “We are asking everyone to play a part in this,” she said. “We are asking governments to have rational, evidence-based, tailored, comprehensive policies with a layered approach of all of these different types of interventions that keep people safe.”