The Omicron Variant

At MANA Clinics and across Arkansas, doctors and healthcare providers are seeing the largest number of patients sick since the beginning of the pandemic. The lines are long at testing centers and a record number of people are testing positive for COVID-19. The majority of these cases are believed to be the Omicron variant.

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been around since November, but we are still learning about it. Here is a roundup of current information.

More contagious, less deadly

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 seems to be more contagious than other variants. Vaccinated people and those who have had COVID-19 before may still catch Omicron COVID-19. On the other hand, the symptoms are generally less severe, especially for people who are fully vaccinated. 

This makes sense. Unlike plants and animals, a virus can’t reproduce without a host — that is, it can only live and spread if people get sick and share it with other people.

A variant that makes people very sick or causes death will probably not spread as rapidly or as far as a variant that lets people continue their ordinary activities. When people feel well enough to go to work or school, they will spread the disease to more people before they realize that they are sick. 

So viruses often become less deadly and more contagious over time. We seem to see this happening with COVID-19. People can spread the Omicron variant even if they have been vaccinated and even if they have no symptoms.

Still very dangerous

While the Omicron variant seems to be less deadly than other variants, especially for vaccinated people, it is still dangerous.

While early research has found that chances of hospitalization and death are lower for Omicron than for earlier variants, hospitals are facing record numbers of patients. The United States is seeing more than one million new cases each day, and many of the cases are of the Omicron variant.

Unvaccinated people are 65% more likely to end up in the hospital from Omicron. Severe illness is five times more likely in unvaccinated people. For those who have two vaccinations and a booster, the chances of winding up in the hospital with Omicron are 81% lower. 

What can I do to protect myself and my family?

Just over half of Arkansans are fully vaccinated. The time for hesitation is past; if you haven’t yet gotten vaccinated and taken a booster, you should make an appointment today.

Also wear a mask in public areas even if you are fully vaccinated, and consider upgrading your mask. Wear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will will wear consistently.