What Makes The Omicron Variant So Transmissible? Should We Adjust Our Safety Habits?

22December 2021

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — If it isn’t already, state health leaders anticipate that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 will be the most dominant strain in Minnesota by the end of the week.

Kris Ehresmann, the infectious disease director with the Minnesota Department of Public Health, said Omicron was found in about 20% of new COVID cases last week. She said it will likely be more than 50% by Christmas. The first case of Omicron was found in Minnesota on Dec. 1, meaning its spread has far outpaced the previously dominant Delta variant.

The speed of its spread had us wondering: What makes the Omicron variant so transmissible? And should we change our habits to stay safe? Good Question.

Since the start of the year, 67% Minnesotans age 5+ have completed their vaccination series to fight COVID-19. Many of those people have also boosted their defense in recent weeks. But the virus as we’ve come to learn is ramping up in its own way.

The new Omicron variant is so transmissible that Dr. Tom Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared it to measles spreading in a non-immune population.

“Measles is kind of the ultimate spreader I think when we talk about viral spread,” Ehresmann said.

(credit: CBS)

What does more transmissible mean when it comes to Omicron?

“When we talk about it being more transmissible, it’s how well it can enter our cells and replicate to cause illness,” said Ehresmann, adding that Omicron is able to do so at a faster pace than Delta.

That’s why she says even if you’re vaccinated, there’s no better time to wear a mask. Upgrading to a second layer or N95 mask is even suggested.

Is there a level of concern with touching surfaces, needing to disinfect touch points more often than we previously thought?

The good news is people don’t need to suddenly clean touch points, like railings or door handles, more often because of the new variant.

“Surfaces have become less of an issue for transmission (of COVID),” Ehresmann said. She did emphasize that people should however continue disinfecting surfaces and washing their hands. That’s because influenza and the common cold have shown a propensity to spread that way.

On top of getting vaccinated and wearing face coverings, testing has again become more important regardless if a person has symptoms.

Health officials also want people to re-evaluate whether they should attend a large indoor event, especially when social distancing isn’t possible.

“All of those things are important parts of a layered mitigation strategy, and they’re that much more important with Omicron circulating,” Ehresmann said.

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