With holiday gatherings and traveling, the Omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading across the country, and health officials are urging caution and encouraging people to get tested and vaccinated to reduce transmission.
“It’s still a good idea to get tested,” said Dr. Jack Franklin, Llano County’s local health authority. “It was especially important with the Delta variant as we had a treatment available with monoclonal antibodies. It is now important with the Omicron variant as we are about to have a treatment in the form of the pill Paxlovid.
“Hard to treat these if you don’t test for them,” he added.
On Dec. 22, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for Pfizers’s Paxlovid “for treatment of mild to moderate” COVID-19 in adults and youths 12 and older (88 pounds or more) who are considered high risk for severe complications from the disease.
Since the start of December, the highly transmissible Omicron variant has spread quickly. But in the midst of flu and and cedar fever seasons, it’s important to get tested for the SARS-CoV-2 virus so doctors and patients know what they are dealing with.
“It is very common for patients to come into my office because they think they just have allergies,” Franklin said. “Then, they test and are found to have COVID. Having knowledge of what illness you are carrying allows you to take measures to prevent others from catching it.
“No one wants to quarantine or isolate, but it is the best way to prevent others from catching this illness,” he added.
On Monday, Dec. 27, the CDC announced it was shortening the recommended isolation and quarantine period for the general population from 10 days to five days if they are asymptomatic. After that, they should continue to wear a face covering in public spaces or when around others for another five days.
Asymptomatic means the person has the disease but doesn’t display symptoms.
“The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after,” according to a CDC media release. “Therefore, people who test positive should isolate for 5 days and, if asymptomatic at that time, they may leave isolation if they can continue to mask for 5 days to minimize the risk of infecting others.”
The CDC also modified its recommendations for unvaccinated people or those more than six months out from their second dose of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, two months after their Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or who haven’t received their booster. In these situations, if the person is exposed to COVID-19, they should isolate for five days followed by five additional days of strict face covering use.
“The Omicron variant is spreading quickly and has the potential to impact all facets of our society. CDC’s updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses,” stated CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a media release. “These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives. Prevention is our best option: get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial and high community transmission, and take a test before you gather.”
Franklin pointed out that a person who has COVID-19 as well as allergies or the flu can transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus more easily due to sneezing, coughing, and runny noses. That is why it’s important to test for the COVID-19 virus.