Posted on Dec. 1; Updated on Dec. 5
Over the weekend, news about the Omicron variant spread quickly and with the news, concerns and questions. Omicron, like the Delta variant you’ve likely heard about, is a stark reminder that we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic and must act accordingly.
In Massachusetts, and across the nation, COVID numbers are on the rise. On Tuesday the state’s Department of Public Health reported 2,915 new confirmed cases, 31 additional confirmed coronavirus deaths, and the state’s seven-day positivity has increased to almost four and a half percent.
Experts are quick to remind us that we’re far more prepared today than we were last year at this time, but they are still urging caution because there is a great deal still to understand about the impact of this latest COVID-19 variant.
Here’s what we do know thanks to the Centers for Disease Control:
- Omicron was classified as a Variant of Concern (VOC) on November 30 based on a number of factors including the number of cases globally and the rate of its spread. Scientists are working quickly to answer questions like, is it more transmissible? Does it cause more severe disease? Does it reduce vaccine effectiveness?
- Variants are a natural outgrowth of any virus. As the virus spreads, it mutates (changes) which is why stopping the spread of a virus is critical.
- DPH has announced that genetic sequencing has identified the COVID-19 Omicron variant for the first time in a case in Massachusetts. The individual is a resident of Middlesex County who traveled out of state. She is fully vaccinated, has experienced mild disease, and did not require hospitalization. The variant was identified through sequencing performed at New England Biolabs.
- While Omicron is classified by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization as a Variant of Concern, scientists are still working to determine how it may compare with the predominant Delta variant in terms of transmissibility and disease severity. There is some limited evidence that Omicron could be more transmissible than other COVID-19 virus variants, including Delta. This variant is being monitored closely by public health authorities around the world, and more information about what we know about Omicron is available on the CDC website.
- All three COVID-19 vaccines in use in the U.S have been shown to be highly protective against severe disease resulting in hospitalization or death due to known COVID-19 variants and remain the single best way for people to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their community from COVID-19.
- The State Public Health Laboratory, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and several hospital and academic laboratories have all contributed to sequencing efforts in Massachusetts during the pandemic. This sequencing data contributes to the tracking of clusters and patterns of disease spread. This in-state laboratory capacity to sequence variants allows Massachusetts to not have to rely on out-of-state laboratories.
- Here’s what we know works to help stop the spread:
- Get vaccinated. Everyone who lives, works, or studies in Massachusetts can get a free vaccine. More information here: https://www.mass.gov/covid-19-vaccine.
- If you’re eligible, get a booster shot. Everyone age 18+ who lives, works, or studies in Massachusetts and who received Pfizer or Moderna at least 6 months ago or Johnson & Johnson at least 2 months ago can get a booster. More information here: https://www.mass.gov/covid-19-vaccine.
- Practice prevention (https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-prevention-and-treatment)
- Get tested. It’s our job to monitor how we’re feeling and get tested. Breakthrough infections (people who are getting COVID even though they’re vaccinated) are becoming more common.
- Mask up. It works and is especially important inside.
- Practice social distancing. It works. And please still try to avoid large crowds.
- Practice common sense hygiene. Wash those hands!
- Crack windows open if you’re inside with people to improve ventilation.