Update 12/20/2021: Omicron now accounts for approximately 73% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., up from about 3% nationally as reported last week, making Omicron the now dominant strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Original post 12/16/2021
When we first posted about the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), we said it would be two to three weeks before the world knew more about its potential impact. It’s been over two weeks since our initial post, so what do we know today?
Omicron is spreading faster than any previous strain
The Omicron variant is expected to join or surpass Delta as the dominant COVID-19 variant in the coming weeks. Omicron was detected in New York City just this month and the percentage of people there testing positive for COVID-19 doubled in three days. In a briefing this week, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, shared these points:
- Omicron could represent about 13% of all cases in New York and New Jersey.
- Early data indicates that Omicron is more transmissible than Delta, with a doubling time of about two days.
- Based on early data from other countries, the CDC expects to see the proportion of Omicron cases in the U.S. grow in the coming weeks.
For context, in New York, Omicron representing 13% of all cases is a huge jump from about 3% of cases nationwide. At 96% as of earlier this week, Delta was still the dominant variant in the U.S. However, on December 16, 2021, the number of COVID-19 cases reported in New York on this day alone appears to be the most new cases ever recorded in a single day for New York City, and was the highest total statewide since last January during the winter surge. Is Omicron behind this surge? We’ll know more in the coming days and weeks.
When it comes to Omicron, Jake Lemieux, infectious disease specialist at Harvard Medical School and Mass General Hospital who is also involved in tracking variants, pulls no punches:
“We know it’s the most transmissible variant of SARS-CoV-2 we’ve ever seen before, and the most immune-evasive variant.”
Early data from other countries also points to much faster spread. A couple of highlights from a comprehensive article posted today by The Atlantic:
- In South Africa, where Omicron has overtaken Delta as the dominant variant, Omicron has spread at least twice the pace of Delta.
- Early British data suggests Omicron spreads twice as quickly as Delta within households (19% of Omicron cases resulted in household outbreaks versus 8.5% of Delta cases).
For more, read “America Is Not Ready for Omicron.”
How Omicron differs from Delta
The data at this point seems clear that Omicron spreads more quickly than Delta but what that means in terms of severity of illness is less clear. A study led by researchers from the LKS Faculty of Medicine at The University of Hong Kong, sheds some light on why Omicron is spreading so rapidly. According to the study, the Omicron variant infects and multiplies 70 times faster than Delta, as well as the original SARS-CoV-2, in the human bronchus, a passage or airway in the lower respiratory tract that conducts air into the lungs. By contrast, it replicated in the lungs at a rate 10 times lower than the original COVID-19 strain.
Early anecdotal reports from South Africa and the UK indicated Omicron infections could be less severe and this notion of settling in the bronchus versus the lungs could help explain that, but a variety of other factors may also be at play including younger people being the ones mostly infected in South Africa and the UK at the time of those early reports. In short, because Omicron has spread so rapidly, the data on severity simply isn’t solid yet. Moreover, even if symptoms are considered “mild,” clinically that means symptoms including fever, cough, sore throat, malaise, headache, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of taste and smell are possible. Also, the effects of “long COVID” are not ruled out.
How to stop the spread of Omicron
In a briefing earlier this week, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) sounded this alarm:
“Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant. I need to be very clear: vaccines alone will not get any country out of this crisis.”
Epidemiologist and health economist Eric Feigl-Ding lays it out:
“The coronavirus is airborne. Very airborne. Even if you don’t see anyone—doesn’t mean the aerosols aren’t in the air…
- you need high quality N95 / KN95 / KF94 / FFP2/ FFP3 masks.
- also please ventilate, get HEPA filters, get upper room UV.”
As always when it comes to infectious diseases, what is needed is a multipronged approach. Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI or UV) should play a crucial role in your battle against the spread of COVID-19 and other airborne infectious diseases. Professional, commercial grade UV like that manufactured by Aerapy is proven to destroy infectious pathogens and reduce viral load. Upper room UV, in particular, is recommended because it offers targeted disinfection for indoor spaces with and without HVAC in place. Aerapy UV technology has been independently tested against SARS-CoV-2 and shown to reduce the virus by 99.97% in one air pass (99.99% reduction in three seconds on surfaces). Moreover, Aerapy’s upper air UV devices that include built-in fans bring immediate airflow for even faster air disinfection.
For more information on Aerapy’s proven upper-room UV disinfection products, contact us for free UV consultation at 866-994-2473 or use our contact form.