Just when everything seemed to be going fine, just when we were on the path of finally flattening the curve, just when everyone was becoming a little less confined, the biggest Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Surge happened. Omicron is deemed to be the COVID variant deemed to have the biggest surge, yet.
What we thought was an almost back to normal holiday, turned out to be the biggest turning point of this pandemic, so far. The Philippines is facing what might be the biggest surge in the COVID-19 infections, intensified by the Omicron variant, which researchers say could be the possible dominant variant by the end of January, displacing Delta.
With more than 3.16 million cases and about 53,000 deaths, the Philippines has the highest COVID-19 infections and casualties in Southeast Asia after Indonesia. Despite that, it is evident the infections caused by this variant appear to be different.
The Health Ministry reported that the hospitals are not yet overwhelmed, as they were seeing fewer COVID-19 patients compared to during the surge fueled by the more deadly Delta variant back in September and October of 2021. In fact, most of those being admitted at the hospitals were “incidental patients” or those who showed up at the emergency rooms initially with other complications such as stroke or other accidents, but were later found to have the virus. More importantly, patients are recovering faster. More than half of the hospital beds in Metro Manila may be currently occupied but the government still sees this as acceptable, considering the surge in cases in the recent weeks. Dr. Wong, an adviser to the Health Ministry, also noted that the hospital use was 60% lower than when the country was in the midst of the Delta outbreak.
Here is What We Need To Know, so far, with the Omicron variant:
What is the Omicron Variant?
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, several Coronavirus variants have emerged as the original virus, SARS-CoV-2, continues to mutate and evolve. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, many of these variants’ mutations have little or no impact on how the virus affects humans but others, such as the genetic changes in the delta variant, can make the virus more transmissible and contagious than the original version of SARS-CoV-2 that was discovered in late 2019.
In November 2021, a variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus emerged and was named omicron by the World Health Organization (WHO) which the organization also listed as a variant of concern based on its observations and findings.
How is it different from the different variants?
Experts say that all of the variants, including Delta and Omicron, cause similar COVID-19 symptoms. They say these common symptoms include fever, cough, fatigue, and muscle aches. There is some evidence showing that fewer people infected with the Omicron variant so far don’t report a significant loss of their taste and smell. Omicron is also believed to be less likely to cause severe diseases such as pneumonia that may require treatment in the hospital. In fully vaccinated and/or boosted people, Omicron symptoms tend to be mild. While in unvaccinated people, symptoms may be quite severe, possibly leading to hospitalization or even fatality.
How contagious is this variant?
As found in several articles and findings online, experts say that based on preliminary evidence, the Omicron variant is indeed more transmissible, more infectious, and contagious than the other variants like Delta and even the original COVID-19. It may have less severity but it does have a high transmission rate. This explains the tripled number in the recorded COVID-19 cases by the first week of the year, or what we have seen as the biggest surge so far. Multiple articles also revealed that even the U.S, South Africa, and other countries, have experienced this vast surge in the number of daily recorded COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant.
What are its symptoms and severity?
● Congestion and/or runny nose
● Sore throat / itchy throat
● Fatigue or tiredness
● Loss of smell and/or taste
● Muscle pain
● Serious chest pain with worsening dry cough
It is highly encouraged for everyone to immediately self-isolate once any of these symptoms, even if it’s just mild, have been developed, and even if we are not fully sure if we are yet infected. Moreover, get tested as soon as possible and consult a doctor.
According to UC Davis Health, this variant is more likely to cause less severe illness compared to other variants like Delta. For example, preliminary data suggest that infection with Omicron results in hospitalization at about half the rate compared to infection with the latter. However, what needs to be emphasized is how infectious it is and its faster transmission rate, leading to a wider transmission.
Yamani, S.Si., M.Si., Ph.D., one of the epidemiologists in the Faculty of Public Health Universitas Airlangga (UNAIR), warned that if this Omicron surge is not controlled nor contained, the number of cases will definitely increase which may then lead to overcapacity in health facilities. This overcapacity, as further noted by Yamani, will delay the treatment of patients, hence the increase in the severity of the patients’ illness or even the result of death.
What we should do:
Amidst the ongoing Omicron surge, we should not let fear set in and instead find ways to protect ourselves and our home. A cleaner, safer home amidst a pandemic is a must and here are few more things to help you avoid getting infected.
● Get vaccinated as soon as it’s your turn
● Keep a safe distance (Social Distancing)
● Always wear a mask
● Always wash and clean your hands
● Cough or sneeze into your elbow
● Open windows for good ventilation or allow natural air inside your space
What is Self-Isolation:
Self-Isolation is done to separate a person with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 from those without COVID-19. People who are in isolation must strictly stay at home, isolated, until it is safe for them to be around others. People who are confirmed to have COVID-19 or are showing symptoms of COVID-19 need to be isolated regardless of their vaccination status. This includes people who have a positive viral test for COVID-19, regardless of whether or not they have symptoms. And people with symptoms of COVID-19, including people who are awaiting test results or have not been tested. People with symptoms should isolate themselves even if they do not know if they have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19.
How to Self-Isolate:
● Monitor your symptoms. If you have emergency warning signs, such as difficulty in breathing, seek emergency medical care immediately.
● Stay in a separate room from other household members, if possible.
● Use a separate bathroom, if possible.
● Take steps to improve ventilation at home, if possible.
● Avoid contact with other members of the household and pets.
● Don’t share personal household items, like cups, towels, and utensils.
● Wear a well-fitting mask when you need to be around other people.
How to Take Care of a Sick Family Member:
Step # 1: Isolate the sick person immediately.
– Prepare a separate, well-ventilated room, with a separate bathroom if possible, and isolate the sick person in there.
– In any case of limited house space with unavailable separate room and bathroom, make sure to provide an isolated area/space for the sick person to stay. Keep distance from one another, and wear masks at all times. Make sure also to open windows and allow air to come in frequently.
Step # 2: Take Care of the Sick Person.
– Identify one household member only to be the contact person of the isolated person: must be someone who is not at high risk and has a little contact with other people as possible.
– Regularly communicate with the sick person virtually for regular monitoring of his/her symptoms.
– Pay special attention if the person is at high risk for serious illness.
– Provide the isolated person with healthy food, water, and medicines and use disposable household items such as cups, utensils, etc.
Step 3: Regularly disinfect the place.
– All household members are encouraged to wear masks all the time.
– Clean and sanitize all frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, etc.
– Make sure to keep a well-ventilated place.
To summarize what we can expect from the Omicron variant:
According to The Medical City,
- The Omicron variant is very contagious causing a big surge in cases.
- Fully vaccinated persons are more likely to develop very mild symptoms if they do get infected, which is called a breakthrough infection. However, one is still infectious during a breakthrough infection, even if it’s just mild symptoms.
- According to observations, the first few days of infection is when one is most infectious.
- Those sniffles or itchy throat that fully vaccinated persons have may already be Covid-19 and it could be the Omicron variant.
Written by Bianca Batobato