Coronavirus Briefing: Omicron, a guide

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How to navigate the coming weeks.

Jonathan Wolfe

Dec. 17, 2021, 5:49 p.m. ET


Daily reported coronavirus cases successful  the United States, seven-day average.
Credit...The New York Times

There’s inactive a batch we don’t cognize astir Omicron, but this is abundantly clear: It’s highly contagious and it spreads quickly.

After erupting successful countries including South Africa, Britain and Denmark, the U.S. whitethorn beryllium next. A laboratory astatine the University of Washington reported that the stock of viral samples that look to incorporate Omicron’s telltale signifier of mutations had jumped to 20 percent from 3 percent successful a substance of days.

The variant has been detected successful 39 states, with reports of large spikes successful New York and different cities. (It’s worthy noting that portion Omicron is spreading rapidly, the Delta variant is inactive widespread, too.)

Early grounds suggests that the Omicron variant tin evade immoderate magnitude of immunity, from some vaccination and erstwhile infection. That, coupled with its breakneck speed, means that infections successful vaccinated people volition astir apt go progressively communal successful the coming weeks. The holidays whitethorn supercharge this trend.

So however should you attack beingness successful the property of Omicron? While the guidance volition surely alteration arsenic we larn more, here’s an archetypal usher to navigating the adjacent signifier of the pandemic.

What bash we cognize for sure?

The basics haven’t changed. Even successful this murky in-between infinitesimal wherever there’s a batch of unknowns astir Omicron, the aged rules to little your hazard inactive apply: Reduce your interaction with different people, particularly successful crowded indoor settings; deterioration a mask, and upgrade it; usage location tests earlier gathering; and get vaccinated, with a booster if possible.

What has changed is that Omicron is amended astatine sidestepping immoderate of the extortion that vaccines springiness us, said my workfellow Tara Parker-Pope, the founding exertion of Well. Early grounds from South Africa has raised hopes that Omicron whitethorn beryllium milder than Delta, but it’s inactive acold excessively aboriginal to marque wide conclusions. “Omicron is going to beryllium disruptive for astatine slightest the adjacent period oregon two, but we’re not experiencing a repetition of 2020,” Tara said.

“When we’re successful a surge similar this, I deliberation we request to deliberation astir priorities a small more,” she added. “Maybe I’m going to skip the movie and eating astatine a restaurant, truthful it’s safer to walk clip with friends connected the play oregon sojourn my parents.”

What if I’m vaccinated?

While Omicron seems capable to thwart immoderate magnitude of immunity, boosters look to bash a bully occupation of preventing infection. Even if you get sick with a breakthrough infection, scientists judge the vaccines inactive supply coagulated extortion against terrible unwellness and death.

That said, everyone should presume they are little protected present than they were earlier Thanksgiving.

Ed Yong astatine The Atlantic put it this way: “As a crude shorthand, presume that Omicron negates 1 erstwhile immunizing lawsuit — either an corruption oregon a vaccine dose. Someone who considered themselves afloat vaccinated successful September would beryllium conscionable partially vaccinated present (and the authoritative explanation whitethorn alteration imminently). But idiosyncratic who’s been boosted has the aforesaid ballpark level of extortion against Omicron corruption arsenic a vaccinated-but-unboosted idiosyncratic did against Delta.”

(Yong precocious canceled his day enactment and explained the hazard analysis down his decision.)

Should I alteration my plans for vacation gatherings?

There isn’t a elemental reply to this question, Tara said: “That said, I tin inactive springiness you 1 elemental extremity that tin assistance you fig it out: Plan your lawsuit astir the astir susceptible idiosyncratic successful the room.”

Think astir the things you would request to bash to support an older grandparent, for example, and that volition springiness you an thought of whether the lawsuit should spell guardant with other precautions, beryllium scaled backmost oregon canceled.

You tin little your hazard by asking that everyone get a booster, if eligible, and instrumentality a accelerated trial a fewer hours earlier the event. Focus connected ventilation, and inquire everyone to standard backmost their societal activities earlier the event.

“If you’re celebrating Christmas Eve, get tested connected Wednesday and past instrumentality a location accelerated trial connected Christmas Eve, close earlier the party. One doc I cognize takes his accelerated trial successful the driveway earlier helium enters his parents house,” Tara said. “I deliberation household gatherings, particularly present arsenic we caput into our 3rd twelvemonth of pandemic life, are truly important. If everyone is consenting to bash what’s needed to support the astir vulnerable, you tin little hazard and stitchery much safely.”

What if I consciousness sick?

Get tested. It’s the lone mode you’re going to cognize if what you’re feeling is simply a acold oregon Covid. It’s besides important to cognize truthful that you tin pass different radical whom you mightiness person exposed, should you trial positive.

Now much than ever, it’s a bully thought to support a fewer accelerated tests astatine location truthful you tin trial yourself. If you bash trial affirmative with an antigen test, it’s a bully thought to travel up with a much delicate PCR test, my workfellow Carl Zimmer said. Try not to exposure others: Use a drive-through investigating tract oregon locomotion to a mobile outdoor investigating site. If neither of these are options, telephone your doctor’s bureau and inquire them for guidance.

I tested positive. Now what?

The guidance is the aforesaid for Omicron as it is for different variants. If you’re vaccinated, the C.D.C. says you should isolate for 10 days and rest. If you unrecorded with different people, you should enactment successful a circumstantial “sick room” oregon area, and usage a abstracted bathroom, if available. Wear a disguise and don’t stock dishes.

The 10-day isolation play begins the archetypal afloat time aft your symptoms develop. If you trial positive, but don’t person symptoms, the 10-day timepiece starts the time aft you trial positive. If you make symptoms later, reset the clock. At immoderate constituent if you person an emergency informing sign, similar breathing trouble, spell to the hospital.

I’m traveling for the holidays. What if I trial affirmative distant from home?

The liable happening to bash is to isolate for 10 days, but whether you’ll beryllium forced to bash truthful depends connected wherever you’re traveling.

In the U.S., it’s mostly up to the idiosyncratic to determine however to proceed. States, airlines, airports oregon astir different forms of proscription bash not necessitate a antagonistic coronavirus trial from home travelers, with a fewer exceptions. Dr. Emily Volk, the president of the College of American Pathologists, says isolating aft a affirmative trial is “the morally and ethically close happening to do.”

If you trial affirmative portion traveling internationally, the rules volition beryllium connected wherever you are. Some places won’t fto you committee a plane, portion different places mightiness necessitate you to enactment successful a authorities infirmary for much than 10 days. If you’re traveling abroad, here’s immoderate advice: Learn the section rules and battalion arsenic if you’re going to get stuck.

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