The fast-moving Omicron variant demonstrates a high transmissibility, but not as significant a hospitalization rate or mortality.
As people have been gathering for the holidays, the number of COVID-19 cases has been increasing significantly. According to USA Today analysis from Johns Hopkins data, there were 2.49 million cases of COVID-19 reported within this past week. This is a record amount compared to the previously highest total of 1.7 million cases reported nearly a year ago during the week of January 3-9, 2021.
In just a few short weeks from its first diagnosed case in the United States, the Omicron variant has overtaken Delta as the predemoninant strain of COVID-19.
And although the case numbers are sky-rocketing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have decreased the quarantine period from the previously held 10 days to 5 days.
“People with COVID-19 should isolate for 5 days and if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), follow that by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others to minimize the risk of infecting people they encounter,” according to a CDC statement released earlier this week. “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 onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after.”
In addition, the federal agency updated the quarantine period for people who are exposed to the virus. “For people who are unvaccinated or are more than six months out from their second mRNA dose (or more than 2 months after the J&J vaccine) and not yet boosted, CDC now recommends quarantine for 5 days followed by strict mask use for an additional 5 days. Alternatively, if a 5-day quarantine is not feasible, it is imperative that an exposed person wear a well-fitting mask at all times when around others for 10 days after exposure,” the same statement read.
For schools, there have been reports of local school districts announcing they will hold classes remotely in the first weeks of January to prevent the spread. However, the federal government has not yet made any specific mandates with remote learning, preferring to leave the decision up to local school districts and municipalities.
Earlier this week, Anthony Fauci, MD, Biden administration health advisor and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, offered some glimmers of hope when it comes to the new variant.
“All indications point to a lesser severity of Omicron versus Delta,” Fauci stated at a press conference. “The data are encouraging, but still in many respects preliminary,” Fauci said. He also explained that data coming from the US, UK, and South Africa are demonstrating a lower rate of hospitalizations and mortality compared to previous COVID-19 strains.
However, he also noted people should not become complacent because the high volume of cases could still potentially overwhelm some health care systems.
The US federal government is also continuing to promote vaccination, and it has been reported the Food and Drug Administration may authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 booster dose for the 12 to 15 year old population as early as Monday.