Get Ready for the Omicron Winter

Put on your mask, get boosted, and buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, but we’ve got the tools to get through it.

Liz Ruark
Omicron

Winter has officially begun, and it’s going to be tough. When I first drafted this post, the Delta variant was still in full swing across the US. It’s bad enough — more than twice as contagious as the original strain of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) — but it’s no longer our primary pandemic problem. Now we have Omicron to deal with.

The Omicron variant is still so new that we don’t know everything we need to know about it yet. But we know enough to be worried that it’s going to make things worse. Here’s why, and what we can do about it.

Why Omicron Matters

What We Can Do

Two doses of vaccine are significantly less effective against Omicron than they are against other variants.

If you’re already vaccinated, get a booster shot — it’ll bring your level of immunity back up. If you’re not vaccinated yet, get vaccinated ASAP. Even two doses of vaccine gives you significantly more protection than nothing at all — especially against severe illness, hospitalization, and death.

Omicron is significantly easier to catch than Delta.

Wear the best mask you can get your hands on. Projectn95.org is a great place to get them. Find a KN95 or KF94 that fits your face snugly, or wear a Level 3 surgical mask, knotted and tucked, to remove any gaps. Cloth masks, which are only roughly about 30% effective, don’t cut it against either Delta or Omicron. It's also a good idea to avoid crowds, especially indoors. Remember, #COVIDisAirborne, so the longer you’re in a room with a lot of people, the more likely you are to be exposed to whatever they’re breathing out.

Omicron is spreading insanely fast. It took Delta about two weeks to double in prevalence in the US — Omicron takes about two days.

Get tested frequently, and if you test positive, isolate right away. As has always been the case with COVID-19, you can get infected without showing any symptoms. If you’re not sure whether you need to get tested, check the COVID Risk Quiz to see if you may have been infected and/or if you’re likely to infect others.

You may have read recent reports indicating that Omicron is likely to cause less severe disease than Delta. While that’s good news, it unfortunately doesn’t mean that we can abandon our COVID-19 precautions. When a virus is this easy to catch, a tremendous number of people can get infected really quickly. If even a small percentage of them end up in the hospital, that’s a huge problem. A small percentage of a colossal number is still a really big number.

Hospitals across the nation were already being pushed to the limit by caring for Delta-infected folks. Health professionals are burnt out. As Science magazine noted, “Even if the variant turns out to be inherently milder, the volume of cases will likely overwhelm health systems.”

We can help keep that from happening — we have the tools. Get vaccinated or boosted. Wear a high-quality mask when you’re in indoor public spaces or when you’re in an outdoor crowd. Get tested when you need it — you can use the WhenToTest COVID Risk Quiz to help you know when that is. And remember, even in the darkness of our Omicron winter, if we just hang in there, spring will come.

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