1) How Contagious is Omicron?
Omicron has proved to be more transmissible than Delta and more than able to outcompete Delta. The peak of new cases was 65% higher than prior surges. There are now sub variants, including BA.2 and BA.2.12.1, that account for 95% of new cases. These new variants are between 2 and 5 times more transmissible that Omicron 1, which was dominant over the winter.
2) Doesn’t Omicron cause less severe illness than Delta?
There was some data early in the surge that suggested Omicron may cause a lower rate of severe illness- hospitalization, need for ventilator care, and death. But looking at what actually happened, Omicron was just as severe for those without immune protection- not vaccinated, never infected, or infected with earlier variants but never having mounted an effective immune response. It was not as severe for anyone with immune protection- either those fully vaccinated with the 2 dose primary mRNA or one dose J&J series or those recovered from Covid in the previous 90 days. Omicron did cause more infections in those who were fully vaccinated and in those with Covid from prior variants, but these tended to be less severe. Those up to date, fully vaccinated plus booster if eligible, were very well protected and continue to be very well protected from both infection and serious outcomes. Boosters are the key.
3) Won’t everyone get Omicron?
The answer is no- everyone did not get Omicron. With the marked increase in cases and transmission among whole families, it may have seemed that way.
Each variant has proven to be more resistant to immunity produced by infection and/or vaccination. The same holds true for BA.2 and BA.2.12.1. With Omicron, more vaccinated people got infected, and more previously infected got re-infected. To date, somewhere around 5000 Haywood County residents have had reported infection with the various Omicron strains. Many more never tested or did not report their home tests. It is estimated that 40% of people in the United States were exposed to Omicron so far.
4) Why don’t the vaccines work?
Many people might think this because of the increased number of infections with Omicron. However, for those fully vaccinated, the vaccines maintained their effectiveness for serious illness in the 80-90% range. For those up to date, meaning with a booster too, the vaccines maintained effectiveness against infection, too. A person fully vaccinated and with immune protection is 7 times less likely to die if infected. If up to date, meaning they have had a booster, they are 20 times less likely to die if infected.
5) If I already had Covid, am I not protected?
If you were previously infected, your immunity may last from 3-15 months for that strain. For most, it will last around 6 months. Newer variants are more able to evade immunity, regardless of whether that immunity was from infection or vaccination. Getting a booster results in the best level of immunity and protection. Bottom line — if previously infected more than 6 months ago and you don’t know your level of immunity, get a booster.
6) What should I do now?
New daily cases have come down significantly since the peak on January 26. After several weeks in the yellow zone, Haywood County and much of WNC are trending back up. Test positivity rates are again above the 5% goal, meaning the numbers reported are well lower than what is actually happening. It just seems ‘low’ right now in comparison to where things were back in the winter. If you were being careful in the other surges, then you likely want to still be careful, especially when finding yourself around others whose immune status you cannot know. The virus continues to cause contagiousness for 2 days before symptoms start. Somewhere between 15-50% of infected people remain contagious at day 5. That has not changed.
7) What should my family do when we get together?
If gathering with family and friends, make sure everyone agrees to be careful. Anyone with suggestive symptoms agrees to stay away. For everyone else attending, it’s better if everyone tests with a rapid antigen test a couple of days before the gathering and the morning of the gathering for a better chance that no one there is infected, contagious but not yet showing any symptoms.
8) If I get can’t I just go to the hospital?
Hospitalizations are down, so yes. But don’t forget, there are treatments that if given within the first 5 days of illness, can decrease the likelihood that your illness progresses far enough to require hospitalization. So, if you get suggestive symptoms, get tested right away. If positive, contact your doctor right away. If you don’t have a doctor, contact the hospital.