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The Omicron Variant and Winter 2021

We have all been looking forward to a better winter, one with visiting, celebrating, and going out on the town. With high vaccination numbers in some communities and fewer cases of covid in general, there has been a feeling that we can let our guards down.

News over the past couple of weeks may be throwing those notions of success into a tailspin. With its imposing name and sudden appearance on the global stage, the variant has created enough worry to rock even the most covid-fatigued among us.

Let’s go over some main concerns and a little background information on the Omicron variant and what it could mean for you this winter.

  • What is the Omicron variant and is it more serious than the Delta variant?

In November of this year, doctors in South Africa reported finding the variant in the local population. The variant was named Omicron in keeping with the Greek alphabet, but “skipping” nu and xi as they were deemed too confusing to be used as names. It seems this variant is not connected to the Delta variant, as it evolved independently from a separate strain. Initial reports have suggested that the Omicron variant is not as harmful or severe as the Delta variant.

In fact, the Delta variant is still regarded as the variant of main concern according to the experts. CDC director Rochelle Walensky made a statement to illustrate this point: “We have about 90 to 100,000 cases a day right now in the United States, and 99.9% of them are the delta variant,” she said.

  • Should we be wearing masks and using social distance measures again?

The CDC is busy at work trying to get the answers needed about the Omicron variant in order to properly protect us against it. They recommend receiving a full vaccine dose, as the most important step, for anyone who is not yet vaccinated. For the vaccinated, booster shots are now recommended for anyone over 18 years of age.

Masks and social distancing are also still recommended when in public or crowded places. Masks do not have to be worn in the home if all family members are vaccinated. But, because of the new variant and the Delta variant, testing for Covid is recommended on a regular basis.

  • Where has it been found in the US?

 The following states have reported cases in the US so far:  California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. ANd four more have just come out with new cases just this week, making a total of 19 states with the variant reported.

  • Does the vaccine or its boosters counteract this variant?’

There have only been preliminary studies about vaccine effectiveness against Omicron. Research has shown that the initial vaccine doses may not protect against this variant as effectively as it has against the previous ones. However, there is cause for optimism as taking a third, or booster, shot will help to build up more protection against it.

With a little commonsense and some increased precautions, and armed with the proper vaccines and boosters for our age, health, and job groups, we may be able to overcome this newest variant. Keep an eye on the CDC and other local websites for up-to-date developments and guidelines.

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