Is Omicron changing the rules of COVID-19 contagion?
What you need to know about protecting against the new virus strain
The new Omicron sub-variant, BA.2, is rapidly becoming the most prominent COVID-19 strain in the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now estimates that BA.2 makes up 35% of all new coronavirus cases. Global health experts attribute this rise to the strain’s higher rate of contagion.
But why is BA.2 so much more transmissible? Researchers found the strain remains significantly more stable in the environment, increasing the likelihood of contraction. And now, new studies have discovered that the virus survives longer on various surfaces, including plastic, paper and even skin. What does this mean for your preventive protocols in the workplace, and should you make any changes? We break down the science behind these new findings and their real-world implications.
The Omicron BA.2 strain spreads more easily than both the original virus and the more severe Delta variant. And BA.2 is about 50% to 60% more transmissible than the original Omicron strain, previously considered the most contagious. In addition, two recent studies are re-evaluating the potential spread of COVID-19 via surfaces. Both found high survival rates of the Omicron virus on common surfaces. In controlled conditions, the Omicron variant was detected on typical office materials like stainless steel, plastic, glass and paper for up to 7 days, in comparison to 2 days for the original strain. On skin, Omicron was still detected for up to 21 hours, as opposed to 8 hours with the original strain. Experimental studies do not precisely predict how the virus will behave in real-life conditions, but it does provide a helpful baseline, demonstrating how the strain’s contagiousness compares to others, and how to mitigate increased risks.
The Good News:
Will the higher transmissibility of the Omicron BA.2 sub-strain then lead to more severe illness and hospitalization? The numbers suggest otherwise in the U.S; though BA.2 proves more contagious, it does not appear to cause more severe cases so far. However, this is primarily among those who were vaccinated; the unvaccinated remain vulnerable. Though public health leaders are monitoring the situation for any dramatic changes, the current data anticipates an increase, but not another surge that would call for more public shutdowns.
So far, the rise of BA.2 will not necessarily lead to a return to lockdowns. But due to the evolving situation, public health experts strongly recommend the public follow CDC-recommended prevention measures. These common-sense efforts will prove key to minimizing the impact of BA.2, as well as reducing the likelihood that the virus will spread and mutate into a more dangerous strain. In addition to vaccinations and boosters, these strategies include:
- Wearing masks indoor.
- Improving indoor ventilation.
Continuing to provide hand sanitizers and soaps for personal hygiene protection. Hand sanitizers also work against the Omicron strain.
- Cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces in shared areas at least once a day.
- Cleaning and disinfecting places that are poorly ventilated more frequently.
- Cleaning and disinfecting spaces where there has been a positive COVID-19 case within the last 24 hours