On Nov. 26, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified a new COVID-19 variant of concern: Omicron or B.1.1.529. As of Dec. 18, Omicron was named the dominant variant of COVID-19 in the US by the CDC. Currently, the CDC predicts that Omicron will spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus but is unsure how fast it will spread in comparison to the Delta variant. In a Dec. 20 statement, the CDC said current vaccines are expected "to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant. However, breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated are likely to occur."
The CDC identified the first case of the new variant - reported initially to the WHO by South Africa - in the United States, specifically California, on Dec. 1. This person was fully vaccinated and returned from South Africa on Nov. 22. "All close contacts have been contacted and have tested negative," the CDC stated. Two days prior, President Joe Biden told Americans that Omicron was not a cause for panic, and California Governor Gavin Newsom's office echoed that upon announcing the US Omicron case.
What Are Omicron COVID Variant Symptoms?
Currently, more research is needed to clearly identify all of the Omicron variant symptoms. The WHO stated on Nov. 28 that it's not yet clear whether people infected by the Omicron COVID-19 variant have worse cases or differing symptoms compared to other variants such as the highly contagious Delta variant.
As of Dec. 20, there are still no clear specific symptoms for Omicron according to the CDC. Overall, the CDC has listed the following COVID-19 symptoms to look out for in general:
Fever or chills
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Muscle or body aches
New loss of taste or smell
Congestion or runny nose
Nausea or vomiting
The WHO did state that preliminary data suggest there are higher rates of hospitalization in South Africa, "but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron." While South Africa first alerted the WHO about Omicron, the variant was reportedly present prior in the Netherlands and Nigeria. It has since been detected across continents, and you can track the spread of Omicron here, courtesy of The New York Times.
Understanding the severity of the new variant, the WHO said, will take up to several weeks. "All variants of COVID-19, including the Delta variant that is dominant worldwide, can cause severe disease or death, in particular for the most vulnerable people, and thus prevention is always key."
Omicron has a large number of mutations, some of which the WHO said are cause for concern; however, Dr. Noc on TikTok, a scientist with a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences and immunology, said in a Nov. 29 video he wanted to emphasize that "simply having a large number of mutations does not necessarily make the virus much, much worse." He also said it's hard to predict right now what that combination of mutations will do and, echoing the WHO, that pinpointing actual severity of the disease caused by the Omicron variant could take months.
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, the CDC, and local public health departments.
- Additional Reporting by Angelica Wilson