Life can throw us a lot of curveballs, some of which seem huge. Just when the world is getting used to the new normal, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced another COVID variant of concern called Omicron.
Also dubbed as B.1.1.529, this variant detected in a growing number of countries is now putting everyone on edge. Countries are resuming travel restrictions, and some European cities are on lockdown to curb the rising cases. What does this variant mean for more vulnerable sectors and places like assisted-living facilities?
What We Know About Omicron
Omicron is such a new variant that even the WHO and the rest of the medical community cannot say for sure its impact on epidemiology and health. According to the preliminary findings, the WHO:
1. Cannot Ascertain the Transmissibility of the Variant
The WHO cannot determine how fast this variant can spread, although some predict it could be more contagious than the Delta variant, which was the dominant one for months in many countries. The studies showed that the Omicron variant has more spike proteins than Delta.
Spike proteins are the proteins that attach to cells and create more copies of the virus. The more they are, the likelier they can successfully attach to the ACE2 receptors, which allow the viruses to enter cells and replicate.
2. Cannot Determine the Severity of the Disease
The WHO and its technical team cannot say whether the variant leads to a severe COVID infection. So far, no country has reported a higher mortality rate because of Omicron, probably because the variant is still new.
The WHO shared that South Africa, where it was first reported, experienced a spike in hospitalization when the variant was detected there. But the organization cannot directly associate this with the spread of the variant.
3. Initially Discovered It Could Lead to Reinfection
While the WHO said that it could not identify the risk of spread and severity from Omicron, it seemed to trigger a higher rate of reinfection. In other words, those who already had COVID could develop it again when exposed to the variant.
However, the report further shared that it seemed to be more frequent in younger individuals and that the symptoms were mild.
4. Cannot Say Whether It Weakens the Effectiveness of Vaccines
The WHO cannot ascertain the effectiveness of vaccines for Omicron because it is still a new variant, and there is not enough data to conclude so. The organization suggested that people should still get vaccinated anyway since vaccines are still effective against other variants, including Delta.
What Can Seniors Do to Protect Themselves
The COVID-19 pandemic was especially deadly for the more vulnerable populations, including seniors. Age has been one of the significant risk factors for infection, hospitalization, and mortality.
With this new variant, what can they do to protect themselves? Until such time that the WHO and the medical experts receive more precise information about the variant, seniors don’t need to follow any new protocol. Instead, the old guidelines still apply:
1. Be in a Clean and Hygienic Environment
Those in senior assisted living could be in a better situation since facilities constantly practice proper hygiene, cleanliness, and disinfection. It sanitizes high-contact surfaces all the time, limits the number of visitors, monitors the health of everyone, including healthcare providers and staff, and keeps itself updated with new COVID guidelines or protocols.
2. Wear Their Face Masks
Wearing face masks and practicing good hygiene are crucial to avoid the spread of infections, and seniors should do so. A November 2021 study revealed that face masks alone helped reduce COVID transmission by over 50 percent.
There’s much debate on what type of mask is best. Of the many options, N95 is the best since it can trap large and small particles. However, it is also the most expensive. And because it can be challenging to find, experts suggest leaving it to healthcare providers.
Instead, people can wear surgical and cloth masks. What matters most is that they can trap particles from sneezing or coughing and fit well to ensure the wearer doesn’t spread aerosols.
3. Get Vaccinated
Medical experts tout COVID vaccines as one of the potent types of protection against viruses. Although they may not 100 percent prevent infection, they can significantly lower the risk. If infected, these vaccines can also result in only mild to moderate symptoms. The chances of ending up in the ICU or having long COVID are smaller.
There is little information about the new COVID-19 variant. The facts stated above might change within a few weeks.
Until then, seniors should follow what they have been doing all along: practice proper hygiene and sanitation, wear face masks, and get vaccinated. All three will help them protect themselves against this and other infections without severe side effects.