Coronavirus Resources

COVID-19 Update: What You Need to Know About the Omicron Variant

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With the holiday season here, we excitedly look forward to seeing family members and friends at special gatherings. But with COVID-19 still circulating, it’s important not to let our guards down and give up proven safety measures.

Studies about omicron are ongoing, but here’s what is known so far.

What Do We Know About Omicron?

Omicron was first identified in Botswana on November 11, 2021. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a variant of concern, calling the global risk “very high” because of its large number of mutations, including the COVID-19 spike protein with 37 known mutations. The spike protein makes it easier for the virus to enter our cells.

There are still many unknowns yet to be discovered. The WHO has stated that there are studies underway to determine if there is an increase in transmissibility, an increase in severity of cases and a different set of symptoms for this variant.

How is Omicron Different From Delta?

The delta variant caused many severe COVID-19 cases earlier this year, which drove another wave of the virus. Though there is no certainty how severe omicron is yet, it’s been suggested that it could be highly transmissible. Omicron is highly mutated as compared to the delta variant. It has about double the number of mutations in the spike protein that delta had — but that does not necessarily mean it is twice as infectious or transmissible.

Coinciding with the discovery of the new omicron variant, doctors have noticed a spike in the number of cases. Omicron could be responsible for an additional wave, expected between January and February 2022. So far, more case numbers have not translated to significantly more hospitalizations from omicron.

Where Has Omicron Been Detected?

Three days after it was discovered in Botswana, the variant was detected in South Africa as well. At least 38 countries are now affected, including the United States. The number of cases are few, but expected to increase.

Do COVID-19 Vaccines Protect Against Omicron?

While breakthrough cases for those fully vaccinated are possible, evidence suggests that getting a third booster shot (or second for those who got the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine) may offer better protection. Fully vaccinated individuals are still expected to be well-protected against severe illness and hospitalization.

Getting vaccinated and masking up is still our best protection against COVID-19, including the omicron variant. For updates on anything related to coronavirus, visit our Coronavirus Resource Hub. We wish you a safe and healthy holiday season.

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