Exclusive TAG Update: Yes, Omicron Has Spread, but NOT a Cause for Panic
The omicron variant of COVID-19, which was first identified in South Africa, has been detected in multiple countries, including many in Europe as well as Israel, Hong Kong, and Canada – and we can reasonably assume that it is in the U.S. as well. But this does not mean there is cause for panic, or even any worry beyond that of the general COVID spread. It does mean that you should continue to keep all precautions in place and stay updated on the facts (not the hype).
Following is what TAG experts know about omicron at this time:
- Although it was first identified in S. Africa, it did not necessarily originate there. There is no evidence yet to indicate its origin.
- As indicated on the graph (above), S. Africa is seeing an uptick in cases driven by omicron, however its previous case rates have been far below that of most other countries despite a much lower vaccination rate (about 25% of the population is fully vaccinated).
- Reports from S. African clinicians are, thus far, showing it to have only mild symptoms such as fatigue and muscle ache with no loss of taste or smell.
- Data is suggesting that the variant has multiple mutations within the spike protein, which provides some question as to its transmission rate. But there is, as yet, no epidemiological data to indicate it is more transmissible than other variants.
- The same holds for vaccine efficacy. Questions remain, but there are no indications of lesser efficacy at this time.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) has, however, designated it as a variant of concern.
So, what should you be doing? TAG recommends:
- DON’T panic! It’s encouraging to see that the world is developing a surveillance system to quickly detect emerging variants. However, key data and information is still needed to determine the short and long-term impact of the omicron variant.
- While we wait, be aware of travel plans. Absent clear scientific data, some governments are restricting travel to and from certain countries. While the risk of infection or severe illness from omicron remains unknown, travel bans or restrictions may continue to change and it’s good to be aware of the potential risk of being “stuck” somewhere.
- In the meantime, retain all the precautions and preventive measures that TAG has continued to advocate for all businesses: maintain wellness checks, require that employees stay home when ill with any symptoms, wear masks, maintain distancing, encourage vaccinations.
TAG will continue to follow the status of omicron (and all things COVID) to keep you informed on the status and the facts.