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Everything You Need to Know about The Omicron Variant

2 minute read

The world continues to learn more about the latest strain of the COVID-19 virus, known as the Omicron variant. It was first detected in Botswana and South Africa in mid-November 2021, and since has been found around the world, including nearly every corner of the United States.

While many current infections and illnesses are likely attributable to the Delta variant, scientists are concerned about the added threat and rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the weeks and months to come. We continue to learn more each day, and here’s what we know so far.

Transmissibility

Early signs show that the Omicron variant likely spreads more easily than any of the previous strains of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that the virus can spread even to those who are vaccinated, though with lesser severity of symptoms than for those who are unvaccinated.

Omicron Symptoms and Severity

The symptoms of Omicron infection appear to be similar to those of previous COVID-19 strains.

We don’t yet have a full picture of the severity of illness associated with Omicron. Its impact will likely be determined both by the characteristics of the variant and by the health and biology of each person who is infected.

Even if mild symptoms are common, the rapid spread of the Omicron variant could lead to overcrowding in hospitals and shortages in treatment supplies.

Vaccination

Several studies indicate that full vaccination plus a booster shot provides strong protection against Omicron infection. But without a booster, vaccines seem to provide much less protection against this variant compared to others.

Still, vaccinations protect against severe symptoms and illness because they both produce antibodies and stimulate the growth of T cells that help fight a particular disease.

Masking and Testing

As colder winter weather in the United States leads more people to gather indoors, two key steps can help avoid further spread of the Omicron variant—masking and testing.

The CDC continues to recommend masking in crowded indoor environments, especially in areas with high transmission rates.

Consider using rapid tests to see if you or anyone you plan to host is currently infected with COVID-19 (regardless of symptoms). If a self-test comes back positive, the infected person should stay home or isolate, wear a mask when in contact with others, and call their healthcare provider if symptoms appear and/or worsen.

Ventilation

For information on how mechanical ventilation and Indoor Air Quality can impact the spread of airborne viruses like the Omicron variant, check out this article on the AprilAire blog.

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