What to do about omicron? Here are the basics you need to know

Coronavirus

(WGHP) — The omicron variant of the novel coronavirus was detected by the World Health Organization in South Africa on Nov. 24.

By Dec. 1, there was the first case in the U.S.

By Dec. 13, there was the first case in North Carolina, a student from UNC Charlotte who had traveled over Thanksgiving.

As of this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that about 73% of the cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. were being traced to omicron.

That is a rapid infection rate by a variance that is said to be significantly more virulent than the original coronavirus and even the deadly delta variant.

And we are now 48 hours until Christmas, as of the writing of this article, with people rapidly arriving for celebrations of families and friends and to church services, and we have a lot of questions about how to manage our plans.

The good news is that those who are fully vaccinated – which, under the CDC’s latest interpretations, means that you have had two shots of either Pfizer or Moderna plus a booster shot – are less likely to contract the virus and almost certainly will not become severely sick.

“If you are vaccinated, and follow the precautions that we all know well, you should feel comfortable celebrating Christmas and the holidays as you planned it,” President Joe Biden said at a news conference on Tuesday.

“Early data show boosters offer substantial protection from severe illness from Omicron, showing that vaccines continue to be the best way to protect your health. Get your booster as soon as its time — especially if you are over 65 or have underlying medical conditions,” North Carolina Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy K. Cohen said Monday.

Can a vaccinated person spread the omicron variant?

The CDC expects that anyone with omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms.

Who is at the most risk of becoming severely ill because of omicron?

“The elderly, people who have underlying health conditions and the unvaccinated are still at risk of severe disease,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead, told MSNBC

With omicron being so easy to transmit, is it safe to fly on a plane?

“The air on airplanes is very clean, because the ventilation systems have been upgraded and the air gets fully recycled every three minutes. I would embrace airline travel over driving. I’d rather be on an airplane where I don’t know the vaccination status next to me than in a coffee shop or restaurant,”  Dr. Vin Gupta, a pulmonologist and public health expert, told MSNBC.

What’s the latest someone can wait to get their vaccine or booster before traveling?

“You can get benefits from the vaccine even 48 hours after you get it, and that benefit grows and you’re fully boosted two weeks out,” Gupta told MSNBC.

Other than being fully vaccinated, what practices should be employed to protect against omicron?

Testing if you are exposed, practicing social distancing and wearing a mask remain the most important defenses against spread of the disease. The CDC recommends wearing a mask indoors as extra protection.

Is a cloth mask effective against the spread of omicron?

 Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of health policy and infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells Health.com that any barrier is better than no barrier. But he says that masks ideally would:

  • Have two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric.
  • Fit snuggly against the sides of your face so you don’t have gaps.
  • Have a nose wire to prevent air leaking out of the top.
  • And should not have exhalation valves or vents, which allow virus particles to escape.

Schaffner tells Health that “surgical masks and good multi-layer cloth masks will fit the above guidelines and are also inexpensive.” Some suggest you can find more protection by wearing a cloth mask over a disposable mask so that it fits snugger. KN95s also are an option.

How should you quarantine if …

you are fully vaccinated and exposed to someone with the virus?

The CDC says that those who are fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine but should get tested between five and seven days after the exposure, regardless of symptoms. Local officials may have different scenarios based on local trends.

you are not vaccinated and exposed to someone with the virus?

If you have not gotten the COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC says you should quarantine if you have been in close contact—within 6 feet of someone for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period—with someone who has COVID-19.

To quarantine, stay home for 14 days after your last contact with a person who has COVID-19 and watch for a fever (100.4◦F), cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19. If possible, stay away from people you live with, especially people who are at higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19.

you get COVID-19?

If you get COVID-19, you should not be around others until 10 days since symptoms first appeared and 24 hours with no fever without the use of fever-reducing medications, so long as your other symptoms of COVID-19 are improving. Loss of taste and smell can last for weeks or months, so you don’t need to take those into account to determine when to end your isolation.

If you test positive but experience no symptoms, you can end your isolation 10 days after your positive test.

If you didn’t have symptoms at first but develop symptoms later, your 10-day isolation must start over beginning on the day that your symptoms first appeared.

People with severe COVID-19 or people who are immunocompromised and have weakened immune systems should consult with a medical professional to determine the appropriate amount of time to quarantine.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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