Editorial: Take Omicron seriously, but by now we know what to do

  • A graduate student holds a swab and specimen vial in a COVID-19 testing lab at Boston University in Boston. The United States has improved its surveillance system for tracking new coronavirus variants such as Omicron.

    A graduate student holds a swab and specimen vial in a COVID-19 testing lab at Boston University in Boston. The United States has improved its surveillance system for tracking new coronavirus variants such as Omicron. Associated Press File Photo

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 12/2/2021 9:00 AM

The latest COVID-19 variant to emerge into public view, Omicron, has been labeled a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization. (By comparison Mu is still only a "variant of interest.")

On Wednesday, it was announced the first U.S. case has been detected in California. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it will enact tougher coronavirus testing requirements to accommodate Omicron, and may require air travelers to provide a negative COVID-19 result from a test taken within 24 hours of departure.

 

Omicron, like all variants, is a concern. It needs to be analyzed and we eventually will find out how well the current vaccines contain it. One hopeful sign -- both Pfizer and Moderna have said they can modify their vaccine formulas fairly rapidly.

Overall though, how well Americans weather the assault of the Omicron variant -- and whatever other variants are on their way -- will largely be determined by Americans themselves.

By this time, we all know what to do. Mask when you go out. Socially distance and mask if you are in a group containing more than just your home unit. Ventilate the places you spend the most time in. If you are sick, get tested; if you are positive, get isolated. Vaccinate. Get the booster.

Of all of these important steps, the most powerful tool is vaccination. To be blunt, the biggest factor in all of this are the people who refuse to get vaccinated -- and how well the unvaccinated isolate themselves once they are ill.

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The vaccine doesn't solve every problem related to COVID-19. Vaccinated people still contract lesser cases of COVID-19 and to some degree can spread it. But the vaccine has had a tremendous effect on keeping the spread of the virus from getting worse and in limiting the severity of cases.

Unvaccinated people are crowding Illinois hospitals again; once Omicron gets to Illinois, it will only get worse. There were 1,334 COVID hospitalizations on Nov. 5, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health; by Nov. 30 there were 2,458. There is so far no sign of those numbers turning around.

As Dr. Anthony Fauci reminded us on Sunday, vaccines may not be as good in protecting against the initial infection from a variant, but they play a big role in preventing someone from having a severe case.

Omicron has been reported to have 50 mutations not seen in combination before. Will that render it more contagious than prior variants? After all, the Alpha variant was more contagious than the first virus, and the Delta virus was more contagious than Alpha.

Whatever we learn in the coming days and weeks, every new variant is a clarion call to Americans that they have a duty to themselves, their families and their fellow men and women. Heed the call.

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