Last summer, as vaccinations were readily available and Americans spent less time indoors, COVID-19 cases rapidly declined, and many people felt as if the pandemic that began early in 2020 was finally coming to an end. Unfortunately, viruses like SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes the illness COVID-19) are difficult to eradicate completely because of their ability to mutate over time. While some of these mutations don’t amount to much, others can turn into “variants of concern” due to their properties (e.g., ability to spread and replicate, severity of symptoms, etc.).
Today, the entire U.S. is confronting a massive spike in COVID-19 cases, largely due to mutated forms of the original SARS-CoV-2 strain. The Delta variant officially became a cause for concern in June of 2021 when it was first discovered in India – and it didn’t take long for it to make its way to the U.S. and elsewhere. In late November of 2021, however, a new variant was discovered in South Africa, and it quickly overshadowed Delta due to its rapid spread. This strain was dubbed Omicron. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the first case of Omicron in the U.S. was found on December 1st, 2021 in California. Fast-forward another month and Omicron has become the dominant strain of SARS-CoV-2 in the U.S. (though Delta is still a concern), reaching every state in the union, including North Carolina.
In early December, North Carolina confirmed its first case of Omicron in a student at UNC Charlottle. A few more cases were found shortly after this, and now North Carolina is experiencing its biggest spike in COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, like many other states. As a result, businesses that celebrated their grand reopening last year might be pumping the brakes – at the very least, everyone should continue to take certain precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19 to keep everyone safe and healthy (and remain open). Here are five important things to know about the Omicron variant so you can prepare your facility for the current wave and future waves to come.
1. Omicron Appears to Spread More Easily than Previous Variants of COVID-19
In order to stick around, viruses must find ways to spread more quickly between hosts. It only makes sense, then, that last summer’s Delta variant is, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), at least twice as contagious as prior variants. Omicron follows this trend, potentially spreading 2-3 times as easily as even Delta. The ease with which Omicron transmits from one person to another has allowed it to surpass Delta as the dominant strain in the U.S., and everyone must take it seriously.
2. Omicron Doesn’t Appear to Cause More Severe Illness than Previous Strains
Though Omicron has quickly made a name for itself due to its superior infectiousness, it doesn’t appear to result in more severe illness than other variants of concern. Indeed, mutated versions of any viruses don’t necessarily become more virulent (though Delta appeared to be) even if they’re more transmissible. While this is good news in one sense, it doesn’t mean everyone is out of the woods – one may have less of a chance of becoming hospitalized from Omicron, but if more people fall ill at a faster rate, hospitals may still become overwhelmed. As such, preventing the spread of COVID-19 should remain a priority for everyone.
3. Masking Still Matters
Information and regulations surrounding masking have been somewhat confusing from the beginning of this pandemic. According to the CDC, however, wearing a mask is still an effective method of preventing the spread of all forms of SARS-CoV-2 (Omicron included). Those who aren’t vaccinated should especially consider wearing a mask in indoor settings, as should vaccinated individuals in areas of substantial or high transmission. North Carolina abides by current CDC masking recommendations, including:
Ensuring the mask fits snugly and covers both nose and mouth
Wearing two or more layers for face coverings
Not wearing two disposable masks at once
Avoid impairing your vision or breathing
4. Vaccination Remains a Strong Defense Against Severe Illness and Death
Despite how quickly Omicron has risen to prominence, there is still a lot we don’t know about this particular SARS-CoV-2 variant. The CDC is careful to note that, “While vaccines reduce your risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19, we don’t yet know how effective they will be against new variants that may arise, including Omicron.” That said, COVID-19 vaccines continue to produce promising results at limiting the spread of COVID-19 and keeping severe symptoms at bay. Though breakthrough cases (i.e., cases of COVID-19 that occur in fully vaccinated individuals) have increased since the rise of Delta and Omicron, hospitalizations and deaths have seen a major decline since the rollout of vaccines. As such, top medical experts continue to recommend vaccination for those five and older, as well as booster shots for those who last received their vaccine over six months ago and in high-risk categories.
5. Facilities Should Continue to Improve Ventilation and Disinfection Protocols
The omicron variant is different from the original (Alpha) strain of SARS-CoV-2 in some key ways, but it still primarily seems to spread via respiratory droplets. As such, the same protocols used to combat COVID-19 before most likely still apply. Improving ventilation inside your facility by opening doors and windows and installing high-quality air filters is one way to limit the spread of COVID-19. In addition to this air disinfection for coronavirus, facilities should continue to encourage proper hygiene for all employees, customers, and guests. Hand sanitizer stations and EPA-registered disinfectants remain key COVID-19 supplies for any business.
Everyone would like to be done with this ongoing pandemic. Unfortunately, COVID-19 doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. As the world continues to adjust to new information and variants, we must all do our part to keep ourselves and our communities safe and healthy. The Budd Group continues to follow guidelines and recommendations posed by the CDC, EPA, FDA, and other authoritative organizations to provide our clients with the best protection against all strains of COVID-19. Our facility maintenance and disinfection services are dedicated to increasing health and safety outcomes for all facilities.
To learn more about our services and values, give us a call today at 800-221-8158! And for more detailed information regarding facility cleaning and disinfection from the CDC, click here.