The Omicron Surge Begins

As the second year of pandemic life draws to a close, the Omicron variant has just achieved dominance in the United States and is converging with Delta, causing just the beginning of what will be a monstrous, worldwide surge in infections in the coming weeks. On December 29th, 488,000 Americans were diagnosed with COVID-19, setting a record that nearly doubles the previous record of new daily cases set last winter. That’s almost a half of a million cases in a single day, in the United States alone, and it’s only a harbinger of what is to come. And, in evidence of Omicron’s power, for the first time in the pandemic, cases are surging simultaneously all over the world.

Since the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV2 was discovered, epidemiologists have been crunching data, as quickly as it becomes available, racing to determine how this new and concerning variant might impact the course of the pandemic this winter and beyond. Innumerable models have been produced, presenting potential visions for what the first months of 2022 may have in store. While the modeling is noisy because assumptions and uncertainties abound when data is sparse, one thing is clear: we are entering an exceptionally dangerous period of the pandemic. Infections will inexorably surge to unprecedented levels. Even in optimistic scenarios, if Omicron tends to produce less severe disease, the sheer volume of anticipated cases is sure to burden an already over-stressed healthcare infrastructure. Unmistakably, even if you are fully vaccinated and boosted, now is a time to consider yourself vulnerable to infection and to err on the side of caution.

In order to stay safe, adhere to the basic mitigation measures that we know to be effective, and elect to follow the cautious course when faced with a decision about how to behave.

• Wear a mask. Avoid being within close contact of others who are not wearing masks or not wearing them properly. Remember, though masks confer some degree of protection to the wearer, we primarily wear masks to protect those around us from our own potential contagiousness.

• Avoid crowds. Unless you know that the overwhelming majority of those present are both fully vaccinated and boosted, as Omicron surges, it is prudent to avoid crowds and large groups of people, even if masks are worn.

• Report known exposures and/or new symptoms. The CDC recently updated guidance on quarantine and isolation for the general population.

Breakthrough cases of COVID-19 among persons who are vaccinated typically feel like a mild cold or allergies. The majority of people infected with the disease will never develop a fever. Any of the symptoms listed below can be associated with COVID-19, and they can be extremely vague and easily dismissed by those who are not vigilant. And identifying even mild cases of COVID-19 remains critically important, because this virus is still pandemic and we all have a moral obligation to prevent onward transmission, to the extent that we are reasonably able, in order to protect our healthcare infrastructure and those who are vulnerable in our society.

Mild cases of COVID-19 generally feel like “allergies” or a “cold”. Please do not ignore mild, familiar symptoms.

fever • chills • cough • shortness of breath • sore throat
muscle or body aches • headache • new loss of taste or smell
fatigue • congestion or runny nose • vomiting • diarrhea

Eventually, SARS-CoV2 will become endemic, and we will no longer need to live our lives in undulating degrees of deference to the virus. This will end. But the pandemic phase of COVID-19 is not yet over. As we face the wrath of the Omicron variant, please renew your commitment to practicing those mitigation measures that we know work. Please continue to wear your mask in public indoor spaces, avoid crowds, maintain distance between yourself and others, and keep your hands clean.

Taryn Tindall, RN, on behalf of the Deerfield Leadership Team