Just when it seems the Covid pandemic is almost over, a new variant finds its way onto crowded city streets, suburban malls, and rural towns across America. Earlier this year, the Delta variant caused renewed worry about the spread of Covid, and many returned to wearing masks and staying socially distanced.
When the Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa this month, it wasn’t long before it was found on U.S. soil. Now we are dealing with the reality that this pandemic will continue to linger.
What is a virus variant?
Viruses are constantly changing. In order for a virus to spread, it infects the host, then replicates by producing copies of itself. Viruses don’t always copy exactly which changes the genetic sequence of the original virus. This change in genetic sequence is called mutation and can result in a new strain of the virus.
According to wellcome.org, “Most mutations are harmless and do not affect the properties of the virus. However, some mutations give the virus a selective advantage, increasing the likelihood that it will go on to infect another person.” Therefore, new strains can become of great concern to the larger community.
What we know
Unlike the original Covid strain, Omicron has more than 50 mutations. Mutations are common in viruses and develop as the virus becomes more transmissible. The concern with Omicron is the fact that many of its mutations are on the protein spike. Katie MacBride of Inverse magazine writes, “the more mutations to spike the protein, the harder it can be for the immune system to neutralize the virus.”
The CDC says the variant will likely spread more easily than the original. If you are vaccinated, you are less likely to have severe illness, be hospitalized, or die. But just as with the original virus, breakthrough cases are likely to emerge.
Plenty of unknowns
Many of Omicron’s mutations are unlike any others including those in the original strain and the pervasive Delta variant. We have not seen these mutations before and don’t really know how they’ll behave.
Because it’s so new, data about what to expect from Omicron is still emerging. However, of the cases reported it is looking to spread quite quickly but not necessarily increase risk of hospitalization. Unfortunately, none of this will be clear for a few more weeks.
The CDC writes, “more data are needed to know if Omicron infections, and especially reinfections and breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated, cause more severe illness or death than infection with other variants.”
It may be too soon to know exactly how devastating Omicron can be but if we’ve learned anything in the past couple of years, it’s to expect the unexpected.
How to stay safe
Just as with the original Covid virus and the Delta variant, a few adjustments to your routine can help you avoid your chances of becoming infected with the Omicron variant. Many of these are practices you are familiar with by now, but a little reminder is always helpful!
Probably the most common advice in helping to spread any viral disease is frequent hand washing for at least 20 seconds. Using an antibacterial hand soap is best. Buy in bulk with DollarDays so you can keep a fresh bottle of soap in each bathroom and kitchen. This way you wash up regularly (especially when coming in from outside).
But remember, frequent hand washing can cause dry, itchy hands. Keep some hand lotion next to your soap so you can keep all your digits well moisturized.
Stay socially distanced
During the holiday season, it can be tempting to want to get together by a cozy fire with friends and family near and far. But remember, gathering indoors increases the risk of the virus spreading especially as the number of guests increases.
Try keeping the get-togethers small and gathering outdoors whenever possible. If you live in a cold-weather climate, stock up on hand warmers, scarves, gloves, and hats so you can safely and comfortably see all your loved ones.
Wear masks and PPE as necessary
As much as we might like to ditch the masks and PPE, it’s not quite time for that. Wearing masks is great practice even during non-pandemic cold and flu seasons. Because they are so widely used, you can find all kinds of masks to fit everyone from young kids to elderly grandparents, in cute designs.
Having a supply of PPE is also a great idea. If you’ve heard the acronym but are wondering, what does PPE stand for and what is PPE, we can help. PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment. It is any kind of equipment (like masks or PPE gloves) you wear to protect yourself from the spread of disease. Increasing your PPE stock is a simple, affordable, and highly effective way to help reduce your chances of getting the Omicron virus.
Reduce unnecessary travel
Traveling is particularly tricky during a pandemic. Traveling requires you to go to crowded areas like airports and train stations, where lots of people are moving in and out. This increases the number of individuals you are in contact with.
If you must travel, be sure to take the necessary precautions. Use hand sanitizer and wipes liberally. Take advantage of travel-sized toiletries like toothpaste, tissues, and soaps so you don’t have to borrow from family or friends.
The new Omicron variant is certainly cause for concern, but not panic. Take precautions where you can and stay vigilant about checking the latest news and data so you and your family can stay safe.