Latest Findings on the Omicron Variant
Our primary care doctors in Delray Beach have been learning more about the omicron variant, so we want to share with you what we’ve learned to date.
Two weeks ago, Florida reported 75,962 new COVID-19 cases, the largest single-day increase since the pandemic began. At about the same time, the U.S. also set a new record, with a million new cases in a single day. And just over a week ago, the Miami Herald reported 85,707 cases, the largest multi-day increase since the pandemic began.
But caseloads may no longer be telling the most important story.
Dr. Anthony Fauci is the nation’s top infectious-disease expert and White House advisor. He says that a better way to gauge the variant’s impact is to look at the numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.
Unfortunately, both those figures are also rising quickly. At last report, about 1,500 Americans are dying of COVID-19 every day.
“Even if the rate of hospitalization is lower with omicron than it is with delta, there is still the danger that you will have a surging of hospitalizations that might stress the healthcare system,” Fauci told CNN.
A bit of hope
There appears to be some good news, however. The omicron variant has spread so quickly and torn through the susceptible population. It may soon hit its peak and begin to recede, according to several infectious disease experts.
They base this projection on data from South Africa, where the variant was first discovered. Cases there shot up, but then quickly began to drop.
Since the appearance of the omicron variant, studies both here in the U.S. and worldwide found that it appears to be less severe, at least for those who have been vaccinated. And the good news is that 63.4% of Florida’s population has received both vaccines.
Omicron symptoms are somewhat different from earlier versions of the virus. Those symptoms were distinctive: aches, fever or chills, severe cough, and the telltale loss of taste and smell. The omicron variant tends to produce milder symptoms. Symptoms that have more in common with a cold or the flu: sneezing, sore throat, runny nose, and muscle aches.
Unvaccinated at risk
For those who haven’t received the vaccine, however, the numbers tell a different story. Hospitals around the world report that those who are unvaccinated represent the vast majority of their COVID-19 patients.
Britain’s The Sun newspaper reported that the risk of hospitalization with omicron is 50-70% lower than with delta. However, across the U.K. those who are unvaccinated are by far the most likely to end up in the ICU.
Figures from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) there showed that among people in their 60s and older who are unvaccinated, the relative risk of being hospitalized was 60 times higher than for those who haven’t received the vaccine, according to the paper.
Studies consistently show that, while vaccination may not prevent you from becoming infected, you are far less likely to suffer severe illness and death than those who haven’t been vaccinated.
New isolation guidance
Meanwhile, last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new recommendations for those who test positive.
The rule since the beginning of the pandemic has been that those who are showing symptoms of COVID-19, or those who test positive, must remain isolated from others for 10 days after the onset of symptoms or following a positive test. This was to help prevent the spread of the highly contagious virus to others.
The new guidelines, however, say that those infected with the virus but who aren’t showing symptoms, or whose symptoms were mild and have since subsided, can leave isolation after five days.
This new move is in response to the fact that so many people are becoming infected with the omicron variant. Keeping them all in quarantine amounts to a national lockdown. Staffing shortages everywhere from hospitals to retail establishments to airlines prompted the CDC to reconsider its earlier guidance.
The agency also said that its research showed only about 25-30% of people were actually following the previous guidelines to isolate for a full 10 days.
This new move is based on sound science, however, as revealed in newer research.
“When somebody gets infected, when are they most likely to transmit the virus to another person?” Louis Mansky, director of the Institute for Molecular Virology at the University of Minnesota, told PBS.
“It’s usually in the earlier course of the illness, which is typically a day or two before they actually develop symptoms and then a couple of days to three days after that,” he explained.
The new guidance applies to school children as well as adults, the CDC said, which is good news for school systems that have experienced a flood of new COVID-19 cases among students and staff.
The agency also suggests that those exposed to the virus quarantine for five days. This is unless they have gotten booster shots or recently receive their initial vaccine doses. It also recommends that anyone with exposure—regardless of vaccine status—takes a test five days later, if possible.