The Facts on the Omicron Variant & How to Stay Safe

The History of Omicron

The Omicron variant developed from mutations of the SARS COV-2 virus and was first detected in specimens collected in Botswana and South Africa. On November 26, 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) named it Omicron and classified it as a Variant of Concern. Four weeks later the Omicron variant became the most dominant strain of coronavirus worldwide.

The first confirmed U.S. case of Omicron was identified on December 1, 2021. Less than three weeks later on December 20th, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Omicron accounted for more than 73% of new coronavirus cases in the U.S.

The Facts about Omicron & How to Stay Safe

FACT: The Omicron variant spreads easier than the original COVID-19 virus. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Omicron variant is significantly more infectious than the Delta variant, potentially 50% more.

Singing River Health System is working closely with the Mississippi Department of Health (MSDH) to sequence samples of positive COVID-19 cases in our area. This data is key to understanding what strains of the virus are present in our community and across the state.

For the week ending December 25, 2021, the Omicron variant accounted for approximately 13% of all samples sequenced by MSDH, up from 8% the previous week, we anticipate this variant will become the predominant strain in Mississippi in early 2022.

FACT: Breakthrough cases of Omicron can occur, but vaccination remains critically important.

Breakthrough COVID-19 infections in people who are fully vaccinated and/or had a prior infection can occur. However, as with other variants, like Delta, current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant.

The emergence of Omicron further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, especially boosters.

FACT: Getting vaccinated and boosted is the best way to protect yourself and others.

Omicron displays how variants can mutate rapidly amid low vaccination rates, which underscores the importance of getting vaccinated and getting a booster. On December 8, Pfizer released preliminary data from an initial laboratory study demonstrating that three doses of the Pfizer vaccine (the original two-dose regiment plus a booster dose) neutralizes the Omicron variant.

Singing River continues to strongly encourage all eligible individuals ages 5 and up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and everyone 16 and over to receive the booster shot at the appropriate time to protect themselves and those around you.

Click here to learn more about COVID-19 vaccinations.

FACT: Remember the basics and recommit to taking the steps needed to stop the spread of Omicron.

As the Omicron variant has proven to be more contagious and is spreading rapidly throughout the U.S. including right here in Mississippi. Fully vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals should continue to protect themselves and others by recommitting to social/physical distancing and other mitigation measures. This includes practicing good hand hygiene, wearing face masks, distancing yourself in public gatherings, coughing or sneezing into your elbow or a tissue, and staying home if you experience symptoms. Avoiding large gatherings completely will further reduce your risk.

FACT: The best way to stop the spread of COVID-19 is to isolate at the first sign of symptoms.

Given what we currently know about COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, CDC shortened the recommended isolation time for people with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic (showing no symptoms) from 10 days to 5 days, followed by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others.

The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to the onset of symptoms and 2-3 days after symptoms arise.

CDC Isolation and Quarantine Guidance December 2021

Everyone, regardless of vaccination status:

If you test positive for COVID-19 – Isolate.

  • Stay home for 5 days.
  • If you have no symptoms or your symptoms are resolving after 5 days, you can leave your house.
    • Continue to wear a mask around others for 5 additional days.
    • If you have a fever, continue to stay home until your fever resolves.

If you were exposed to someone with COVID-19 – Quarantine.

  • Wear a mask around others for 10 days.
  • If you develop symptoms get a test and stay home.
    • Most accurate test will be on day 5 after exposure.

FACT: Monoclonal antibody therapies used to treat COVID and its other variants such as Delta are not as effective against the Omicron variant.

The Regeneron (Regen-COV) and Bamlanivimab/Etesevimab products are not effective against the Omicron
variant, according to MSDH further allocations of Federal supplies to the states have been paused.

Sotrovimab retains activity and is still effective against the Omicron variant, but the supply is extremely limited. MSDH is actively working to obtain additional allocations of monoclonals from Federal supplies, including Regen-COV.

FACT: New FDA-approved antiviral medications Paxlovid and Molnupiravir are effective against the Omicron variant.

Mississippi will receive a very limited supply of oral antivirals for the outpatient treatment of COVID-19: Molnupiravir and Paxlovid. MSDH anticipates additional allocations of these antivirals to the state in mid-January.

  • Paxlovid has demonstrated an 89% reduction in severe illness.
  • Molnupiravir has demonstrated a 30% reduction in severe illness.
  • Both are indicated for use in the outpatient setting and should be started within 5 days of first symptoms.

FACT: Plan ahead and exercise caution if you intend to travel.

If you plan to travel, make sure to check the current COVID-19 situation at your intended destination. The CDC also recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated. If you plan to travel by air, check if your airline requires any testing or vaccination status. With the emergence of the new Omicron variant, policies might be shifting so even if you checked when you booked, it’s important to recheck before your trip what policies are in place – both for your flight and destination.

Click here to learn more or to find the nearest Singing River COVID-19 Testing & Vaccination locations.