Omicron is all anyone can talk about this week, but you shouldn’t panic just yet. Friday’s market reaction and massive media coverage fueled anxiety around the world, but this isn’t the first or even the second variant identified - it’s the fifth since September 2020.
Yes, Omicron has more mutations than the others, but what those mutations mean will require further research. We still don’t know how it responds to current vaccines, if it's more infectious, or if it makes people more or less sick than other variants.
The WHO and the world’s leading scientists say it will take at least two weeks to gather more information, test the vaccines against the variant, and have a better idea of what this variant really means. There is one early report from a doctor in South Africa who says that those infected with Omicron appear to be less sick and sicker for a shorter time. But it’s still a very small sample size (only 7 patients or so), so we should take all of these early reports with a grain of salt - the WHO says it's still too early to tell if illness might be milder. The previous Alpha and Delta variants didn’t cause more severe illness, though each was more infectious than the previous. These early reports from South Africa may show a similar trend.
If you’d like to read more on it (from well-researched sources), here are some good ones:
It’s also important to note that, likely unrelated to Omicron, we’ve been seeing elevated case counts since four days after Halloween. Our clients had the highest number of employees reporting symptoms this past Friday and Saturday since Labor Day. The fifth surge is likely here, but we don’t have any evidence that it’s related to the new Omicron variant. More likely, it’s related to colder temps sending people indoors with fewer COVID precautions.
Omicron is a variant of concern, but not a cause for panic. Our basic advice: Keep doing the next right thing.
If you keep fighting the spread of COVID through these basic actions, you’re also fighting the spread of Omicron and any future variants.