Art Courtesy of Graphicook
The most recent variant of SARS-CoV-2, known as Omicron, has made its way to the United States.
First detected in South Africa, Omicron was quickly labeled a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization because its mutations could enable transmission in unpredictable ways. Scientists are in the process of diagnosing the contagiousness, vaccine resistance, and symptom severity of Omicron.
In light of this new variant, the United States and dozens of other countries have implemented travel bans against African nations in close proximity to where Omicron was first identified. These travel bans, however, have not been well-received by top health officials. Such restrictions may send the wrong message: that countries who report on the discovery of variants within their borders will be promptly punished, which could have a chilling effect on countries’ willingness to report future outbreaks.
As Omicron makes its way across the globe, the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization proffer alternatives for stopping the variant’s spread. Namely, encouraging all eligible people to receive a vaccine against COVID-19 as soon as possible and continue practicing public health safety measures, such as mask wearing and social distancing. While the vaccine does not completely eliminate the risk of catching COVID-19, it does make those who are infected far less likely to be severely sick or hospitalized, and it reduces the probability of new variants cropping up in a population.
Above all, it is important not to panic. Rather, one must keep in mind that scientists are working to understand this variant and determine the next best steps in combating Omicron.