Omicron variant: What we know, what you can do

Published: November 29, 2021 8:54 AM EST
Updated: November 29, 2021 2:43 PM EST

The latest COVID-19 variant to be identified, Omicron, is spreading across the globe. But many details of the new variant remain a mystery. Here is what is known about it so far, and what precautions experts advise you to take without putting your lives on hold.

The symptoms are unusual but mild, according to the South African doctor who first alerted health authorities to Omicron. Dr. Angelique Coetzee says she has treated patients with symptoms such as sore muscles and tiredness for a day or two. No one has suffered the usual loss of taste or smell, but they might have a slight cough. The places on the globe these new variants are stemming from are also the places with the lowest vaccination rates.

People in Southwest Florida say the new variant isn’t much of a concern for them.

“I’m not too concerned right now, not yet, because the last variant didn’t seem to do too much,” said Naples resident Gunther Lenoce. “‘Cause they say if you got the booster shots, then it’s only supposed to be like the flu, anyway. It’s not supposed to, you know, take you down that much.”

“I’m not worried about it,” said Kevin Lenoce. “I haven’t been worried about the other ones. The flu, there’s a new variant every year. Not concerned about those either… we just have to move on and live with it.”

As always, to protect yourself and your loved ones from this new variant, the CDC recommends you wear a face mask in public indoor settings, keep physical distance from others and get a vaccine.

Starting Monday, the Biden administration is restricting travel from eight African countries— South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, Eswatini and Botswana—in an effort to stop the spread of the Omicron variant. While COVID-19 clearly isn’t done with us yet, you can learn to live with new variants while medicine works to combat them instead of limiting yourself as much as in the pandemic’s early days.

That’s the advice Dr. Marissa Levine, professor of public health practice at the University of South Florida, says previously established health precautions for COVID-19 will offer some protection from any variant. If you want to travel, you may as well, as long as you make sure you’re doing what you can to protect others and yourself.

“I would encourage people to vaccinate, as I said, but I also would say, with the holidays coming up, remember that it takes a few weeks for all vaccines to have an impact,” Levine said. “I also recommend—if you’re going to be convening with people, families and friends, and some of those folks are either high-risk for complications or they haven’t been vaccinated—that you consider testing; those rapid tests can be helpful to know about whether we have the potential to transmit the virus.”

Levine hopes we take in the information we have about COVID-19 and make it a part of our day-to-day practices. There’s a lot we still don’t know about Omicron, so if you’re traveling abroad, make sure you staying up-to-date on the latest information.