COVID’s New Variant, Omicron, Causing Concern

11-28-21
   I know we are all tired of COVID and are anxious to get back to more normal lives. But the blunt reality is that COVID in all likelihood is here to stay. The best case scenario (realistically speaking) is that it will become endemic as opposed to the current pandemic. But even once it is considered endemic, there will be periodic surges (some local and some worldwide). It will wax and wane with some areas having larger outbreaks than others.
   There are multiple reasons why COVID is here to stay. For one thing, there are too many people refusing to get vaccinated even though the vaccines have been proven to be quite safe and effective, especially against severe disease. There is also growing evidence that people’s immune resistance from previous infection and vaccines may decrease over time. This is why boosters have now been authorized. Another factor is how the virus has been mutating so quickly. As the virus mutates, new variants of it are created. Sometimes, a variant will fizzle out without getting very far, and other times a variant will spread rapidly to become the dominant form of the virus for a period of time. We recently saw this with the Delta variant. And now we have a troubling new one called Omicron.
   Omicron is concerning because it has a large number of mutations which could affect how transmissible it is and potentially how severe it is. The mutations might also impact how well people’s immune resistance (from previous infections or vaccines) may be able to fight it. There is a chance that Omicron could be so different because of its mutations that people’s immune resistance won’t work well in battling it. At this time, it’s too soon to tell the full impacts of this new variant. Some preliminary data is raising the possibility that with Omicron, the risk of reinfection for people who already had COVID via an earlier variant, may be elevated. Research is ongoing. Hopefully, within a few weeks, we will have some idea how well people’s current immune resistance will work against it.
   Another concern for the Northern Hemisphere with regards to Omicron is the onset of winter. Some viruses, like the flu, survive better in cold, dry environments. We can’t say for sure whether COVID is like this or not, but there was already concern about a winter surge due to the fact that in cold weather, people are more likely to be gathering indoors where there is less ventilation. There’s also the fact that people are getting out more and fewer are wearing masks/social distancing when they should. This combination of factors is creating great concern about what is going to happen during the next few months.
   People should wear masks and social distance when they are inside public places or in outdoor crowds that are large and concentrated. Individuals who are unvaccinated need to get vaccinated as soon as possible, and vaccinated people need to get boostered when eligible.
   We must all do our part in fighting COVID. It’s more than just protecting ourselves; it’s about doing the right thing for the greater good.

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