Just two months ago, Omicron was a brand new COVID-19 variant that was seen in only five people in the U.S. Now, categorized as a variant of concern by the WHO, Omicron now makes up 95% of all new U.S. COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC.
Omicron has rung in the new year breaking records left and right, raising the U.S. seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases to over 386,000 as of December 31, 2021. Predictions of Omicron causing a new COVID-19 surge have come in a full circle, but experts warn that it’s just the beginning.
Omicron Surge Expected to Worsen
Health experts report that Omicron is the most contagious COVID-19 variant to date, surpassing the high levels of transmissibility of the previous delta variant. According to a medical analyst, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, contracting Omicron can be as easy as having a transient encounter with an infected person.
Wearing a loose mask, pulling your mask down for a quick second, or entering an elevator with an infected person are all more than enough to catch Omicron. And it’s precisely this extreme level of transmissibility that caused an explosion of new cases.
Because of Omicron’s high transmissibility, stricter health protocols and safety measures are called for. But while plans to eradicate the new strain and create new mandates are underway, Omicron is continuously causing destruction.
New Cases Up, Hospitalization and Death Rates Stagnant
As of January 1, 2022, the U.S. has surpassed 2 million new COVID-19 cases in a week, the most it’s seen since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. But although cases are rising at an unprecedented rate, hospitalization and death rates are not.
This week, only a little over 10,000 deaths were reported, more than half of the average death count of over 23,000 in the same time last year. This supports early evidence that although Omicron is more contagious, it is less severe.
Symptoms are toned down and more similar to those of the common flu, with the most common being cough, congestion or runny nose, and fatigue.
How to Protect Yourself From Omicron
Given Omicron’s higher transmissibility, whatever measures we used to take to protect ourselves from the virus needs to be doubled (or even tripled). Transient, one-second encounters are enough to contract the virus, a fact that calls for more careful measures.
The best we can do is to avoid going out at all, except when absolutely needed to obtain food or medicine. When going out for essential purposes, wear tight-fitting masks that have a high filtration efficiency, maintain a safe distance from others, and sanitize frequently.
Getting vaccinated can also strengthen your body’s defense against Omicron, as well as getting your booster shots if and when you are eligible.