Life This Year: Confronting a New Pandemic Variant

Not even two weeks into January 2021, the United States is already facing a nationwide near-collapse in services due to the Omicron variant of Covid-19, reports U.S. News on January 8. This is not surprising because CNBC cited data from Johns Hopkins University that on January 3 alone, there were 1,082,549 new Covid-19 cases across the country. This is the highest daily number of cases worldwide.

Hospitals are running out of beds and must postpone treatment for non-Covid patients. While the number of Covid-19 patients is increasing, the number of hospital staff is decreasing because they, too, are getting infected. Paramedics and ambulances are stretched thin.

Outside the hospitals, other services are also affected. Trash collection and subway services are affected by infections among workers. Airports are shutting down for lack of personnel. There are not enough firefighters and emergency workers on duty due to Omicron. In schools where in-person classes are supposed to have resumed, many teachers are absent because of Omicron.

Dr. Anton Erkoreka, a physician who is the Basque Museum of the History of Medicine director, stated that Omicron is the fastest-spreading virus in world history. Less than a month from its first detection in Africa, it has become the dominant variant worldwide, causing many more cases than previous variants. It only takes Omicron four to five days for an infected person to become infectious. CNBC highlights that as of January 1, 95 percent of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. were from Omicron, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In contrast, less than a month earlier, 99 percent of Covid-19 cases were caused by the Delta variant.

Medical experts state that unvaccinated people are most likely to develop severe illnesses from Covid-19 Delta and are risking death. Complete vaccination does not protect against infection but prevents serious illness. A booster shot increases the chances of being asymptomatic or having only mild symptoms.

Choose Vaccination, Choose Life

Getting full vaccinations and booster shots are lifesaving measures this year. When the government makes additional booster shots available, be among the first to get it. According to the CDC, as of January 4, the interval from the complete vaccination to the booster is two months for the Johnson&Johnson vaccine, five months for the Pfizer vaccine, and six months for the Moderna vaccine.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reminds parents that vaccines are already available for free not only for children aged 12 and older but also for those from the age of five. For those who have a weak immune system due to a medical condition, the primary vaccine must include a third dose. This is apart from the booster.

Fully vaccinated children aged 12 and older can already avail of boosters after five months. The AAP strongly urges parents to have all qualified children vaccinated and boosted. The only authorized booster is Pfizer. For children younger than five years old, parents must monitor reputable sources of information for the availability of vaccines. These are currently under study.

In the meantime, pediatricians further remind parents to ensure that their children are updated in all other routine vaccinations. These include influenza, measles, polio, and whooping cough, among others.

Living With Omicron in 2022

Because of the extremely high transmissibility of Omicron, more stringent measures must be taken against it. When leaving the house, it is best to wear a mask, even if fully vaccinated and outdoors. You never know if the person who passes a few feet away from you is a carrier. Make sure that your mask is of the right specifications and fit.

At home, invest in good air filtration and disinfection system. Hire professional heating, ventilation, and air conditioning or HVAC service and upgrade to a system compatible with the highest minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) rating. For instance, surgical operating rooms use MERV 17 to MERV 20 filters. These catch the smallest particles of dust, bacteria, and viruses, in addition to pollen, molds, and other allergens and pathogens. Also, ask your service provider to install ultraviolet-C (UVC) radiation inside the HVAC’s air ducts to help in the disinfection of the air. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) states that this is the safest way to use UVC radiation. Never use it on lamps because direct exposure of the eyes or skin can cause damage.

Omicron imposes much more restrictions on us compared to the earlier variants of Covid-19. We must not shirk these restrictions because these may prepare us for even worse variants to come. Instead of getting stressed over the previous lifestyles we lost, it is in our power to develop new lifestyles that will protect us and make us win the fight.

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