Health & Fit What Parents Should Know About the Omicron Variant Heading Into the Holidays
What Is the Delta Plus Variant? Here’s What Experts Know About It So Far
The sub-lineage of Delta has spread through various countries, including the U.S.“The first case [in South Korea] was identified in a man in [his] 40s who has no recent travel records,” the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) told Reuters. It’s unclear how the man became sick. The second case of Delta Plus was in a traveller who recently returned from the United States. That patient had been vaccinated with both doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
A new and likely has emerged, prompting travel restrictions, extended mandates and concern about what this means for the .
The variant, Omicron, was first identified in Botswana and South Africa and was designated in late November as a variant of concern by the (WHO). While there is little information on this particular variant, we do know that it has an unusually high number of mutations which has the potential to make the virus more transmissible and susceptible to existing vaccines.
“Mutations are part of the expected evolution of a virus life cycle, but they actually happen by accident,” said Dr. Krupa Playforth, . “Every time the SARS CoV2 virus infects a new host and replicates within that host’s cells, there is an opportunity for an error to occur. These errors lead to mutations and variants.”
An Internal CDC Report Suggests That The Delta Variant Is As Contagious As Chicken Pox
But more research is needed on the strain's severity and contagiousness.The new recommendations state that fully vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in areas with "substantial" and "high" COVID transmission, or nearly two-thirds of all U.S. counties.
The risks from this particular variant are not yet understood because of how new it is, and because of this limited information, a lot of questions remain.
What do we know about Omicron’s presence in the United States?
It’s too soon to know or predict how this virus will spread. As of December 3 only 10 cases were confirmed nationwide. The first two cases were confirmed on December 2, and of those cases both individuals have experienced mild symptoms. The first person who tested positive for the variant returned from South Africa to San Francisco on November 22 and tested positive on November 29, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The individual was fully vaccinated and is expected to fully recover.
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The second case was traced back to a man in Minnesota who attended an anime convention in New York City days prior to his positive test. He was fully vaccinated and received his booster shot. He is no longer feeling symptoms according to officials, and extensive contact tracing is underway.
Are experts worried?
The discovery of Omicron has prompted concern across the globe. Many countries have banned flights from southern Africa, and countries like Israel, Japan and Morocco are barring foreign travelers from entering their country all together. President Biden announced new travel restrictions this week that require anyone travelling into the United States to have proof of a negative Covid-19 test within 24-hours of their departure. He has also extended the transit mask mandate through March of 2022, which requires masks to be worn at all times on airplanes, buses, trains and boats, as well as in airports and other transportation hubs.
Omicron variant is 'almost definitely here already' in the US, former FDA commissioner says
"It's almost a certainty that there have been cases that have gotten into the United States," Scott Gottlieb said of the omicron coronavirus variant.It comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Saturday that there have not been any cases as the variant as of yet.
But medical and public health experts have urged caution over panic due to the limited information that is currently available.
Dr. Jessica Madden, a board-certified pediatrician and neonatologist, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Medical Director of says this new variant could be a good thing.
“Its emergence might end up being positive, as it’s possible that it will compete with Delta,” she said. “And if people get Omicron instead of Delta they might not get as ill. This could end up being the true beginning of the end of the pandemic. It’s postulated that Covid-19 will always be with us, much like influenza, so it will be better to have milder strains of it circulate every year.”
What about vaccines?
Vaccines are expected to provide some protection against the . Vaccines in general provide protection against a virus because they stimulate other immune cells that attack virus-infected cells and stimulate the antibodies.
Dr. Corey Casper, MPH, CEO of the Infectious Disease Research Institute, a non-profit biotech organization, says the current vaccines are likely to help. “Even if they are only 20% effective, that improves the odds in your favor, and when we say protected, they may have an even greater effect on preventing severe illness or death,” he said. “With the previous variants of concern, higher antibody titers to the original vaccine, were associated with greater protection against variants of concern, which is why another injection to boost your immune response has been recommended as Delta continues to circulate – so don’t just get vaccinated, get a booster.”
New COVID Variant Spurs Cascade of International Travel Bans
The U.S., Israel, Japan, Poland, and Spain are among the countries that have swiftly introduced new travel bans or restrictions in light of the newly discovered Omicron variant. Here’s what we know thus far.“The profile of [the Omicron variant] includes multiple mutations across the SARS-CoV-2 genome, some of which are concerning,” President Joe Biden stated in a November 26 proclamation that implements an effective ban on travel from several southern Africa countries. “According to the WHO, preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other variants of concern.
So, what if you’re fully vaccinated and have your booster? Should you care about Omicron?
Experts agree that you should still mask up, wash your hands and practice social distancing, regardless of your vaccination status. Other variants, like the Delta variant, were very contagious and caused a large spike in cases and deaths among the unvaccinated earlier this year. And with the emergence of these new variants, light is shed on a fundamental problem facing the global population – the hoarding of vaccines by wealthier countries. This in turn has caused less affluent nations to have trouble keeping their outbreaks at bay while doing their best to obtain life-saving vaccines. This situation only provides more opportunities for the virus to mutate and new variants to form.
What does this mean for holiday travel?
With this new variant’s timing centered in the middle of the holiday season, concerns around travel have emerged. With many Americans having to stay home and sit out last season’s festivities with family and friends, experts feel a little better about this year. And that’s in large part because of vaccines and booster shots. Dr. Casper recommends that if you’re visiting any family, getting vaccinated and getting your booster shot is the way to go. “Make sure that all who gather are vaccinated and boosted and consider testing immediately prior to gathering as a group,” he said.
Should You Reconsider Traveling Due to the Omicron Variant?
The new variant is a cause for concern.The White House readout revealed that Dr. Anthony Fauci, in his meeting with President Biden, said that it will take two more weeks to have more definitive information on the transmissibility, severity, and other characteristics of the variant. “He continues to believe that existing vaccines are likely to provide a degree of protection against severe cases of COVID.
Dr. Madden says that decision making for this upcoming holiday season will depend in large part on what is happening in your family and your community. She recommends knowing what the infection rate in your area looks like and being thoughtful about higher-risk gatherings if your community is seeing an uptick in cases.
“Every layer helps,” she said. “To decrease risk even further, families could think about rapid testing at the start of the vacation and being flexible about changing plans if anyone becomes sick. More than anything, being flexible is probably my biggest advice, because these recommendations may change as we learn more about Omicron.”
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South Africa says its Omicron wave may have peaked, and it's lifting its overnight curfews one month after reporting the new variant .
COVID-19 cases in South Africa subsided just weeks after new infections surged to record highs, as the rest of the world grapples with Omicron.In response, the country is now lifting its night-time curfew, which restricted people from going out between midnight and 4 a.m., the South African cabinet said in a statement.