Monday, January 03, 2022
The COVID Omicron variant surge is upon us. Israel, a highly vaccinated country whose people follow public health safety precautions, predicts one-third of its population may get infected with Omicron in the next few weeks.
In similarly well-vaccinated but much less cautious Rhode Island, the state may experience something comparable if not worse, with one-third to even one-half of Rhode Islanders becoming infected with Omicron.
An Omicron COVID infection can be very serious and debilitating even if it turns out to be ‘milder’, and there are very good reasons to avoid it including crowded hospitals and overworked doctors and nurses which means space might not be available for you if you need it.
There is no one thing you can do to guarantee not getting infected. However, there are a number of things you can do over the next few weeks, each of which can add an additional layer of protection to reduce your risks of getting infected.
1. Get a COVID vaccine booster shot now (but it might already be too late for that).
Vaccination plus a booster shot is an important defense against infection and especially serious illness and hospitalization. However, it takes a week or two after a booster for full effect, and time is running out if you haven’t yet been boosted.
Vaccination alone is not enough. Peak effectiveness against symptomatic infection with a booster is about 70-75%, waning thereafter. Even with optimal boosting, 1/4 or more people could still get infected, which means needing to take additional precautions.
2. Stay at home as much as possible.
Omicron is everywhere and is much more contagious than the Delta variant. There has even been a case report of Omicron infection spreading across a hallway and through doors in a hotel. The best way to minimize getting infected is to minimize the chances you will encounter the virus – by staying at home.
3. If you’re over 80 (or immunocompromised), don’t go out at all.
The COVID vaccines are very effective, but protection drops off significantly in older individuals. For those over 80, it’s questionable how well the vaccines might work against Omicron and for how long. If you’re over 80 or immunocompromised, you would be safest sheltering at home until the Omicron surge passes.
If you know someone who is elderly or immunocompromised, help them by bringing them groceries and other necessities so they don’t need to go out at this time. You may well save their life.
4. Don’t go to restaurants, bars, or other indoor spaces where unmasked people are found. Take out and Eat at Home.
Being indoors in enclosed spaces with other unmasked people is the highest risk of getting infected.
Support your favorite restaurants over the next few weeks by ordering takeout – it’s safer for everyone, including the workers. Give a big tip.
5. Avoid Unnecessary travel.
If travel isn’t absolutely essential, consider putting off that trip by plane, train, or bus until after the Omicron surge has passed. Try a staycation and stay over at a local resort or hotel.
6. Be especially careful with your children.
Children are bearing the brunt of both getting infected with Omicron, and spreading infection.
A major recent study found that the COVID-19 virus spreads to almost every organ and tissue in the body, especially the brain and heart, and persists there for over 7 months – in people of all ages from 6 to 91, including those who had mild or even no symptoms.
Give children some extra protection for the next few weeks so that they’re not potentially burdened with the virus for a very long time.
7. If you must go out, wear an N95 or equivalent filter mask.
Vaccination can protect you from infection or serious illness. But the vaccines alone do not do much to reduce the transmission of an extremely contagious variant like Omicron. Additional protections are needed to reduce the chances of getting infected.
An infection with the Omicron variant can be caused by a smaller number of viral particles than other variants. A single-layer paper or cloth-only mask will not do as much to protect the wearer against Omicron. To provide as much protection as possible now requires an N95 or equivalent filter mask (KN95, KF94, FFP2, MERV13 or higher).
We are all tired of the impacts of the pandemic on our lives. Unfortunately, the virus is not tired of infecting us. Omicron is out there looking for any opportunity to infect a person. If you would prefer to avoid being one of the 1/3 to 1/2 of Rhode Islanders who may get infected, these safety precautions could improve your chances for staying safe. The Omicron surge is expected to be fast-moving, peaking later this month and declining by March. A few weeks of precautions now could mean a lifetime of better health.
Nick Landekic is a retired scientist and biotechnology executive with over 35 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry.