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  • Dr. Soumi Eachempati

Omicron in 2022. What to expect.




With the turn of the calendar year, all the recent attention in the news has been the massive spread of Omicron infections. Consistent trends across multiple countries have unequivocally demonstrated that the Omicron variant is more contagious but less lethal than previous coronavirus variants including the Delta variant. However, the infectiousness of Omicron with the combination of colder weather and holiday gatherings has produced a massive surge in infections in the US and abroad over the past couple of weeks.

PANDEMIC TO ENDEMIC

The change in the spread and nature of Omicron has caused major challenges in the resumption of normal reopening strategies in the US and triggered other new responses.

  • Return-to-office Timing Delayed: Major banks – including Goldman Sachs, Citi, and JPMorgan – are pushing back their return to office plans due to Omicron.

  • Internal Mandates by Companies Increasing: Other businesses have determined that the pandemic has crept into the endemic phase and in response have created more structure around their internal employee screening / COVID testing and safety solutions. Recently, companies like Starbucks with 200,000 employees have joined other large organizations like Netflix, Google, Facebook, and Coca-Cola in mandating vaccinations for their corporate employees.

  • Testing in Addition to Vaccinations: Educational organizations from the collegiate level to the elementary level have imposed mandates for vaccinations for their students and some have also required weekly testing for COVID-19. These institutions have endured a series of closures and reopenings until finally deciding that a more proactive approach may be their best strategy.

DIFFERING OPINIONS

COVID-19 continues to spur controversy on several fronts:

Federal Vaccine Mandate not finalized by Courts: Importantly, all these changes have occurred in the absence of finality on federal guidelines regarding vaccine mandates around health screening for private and public employees – which has been the source of controversy with several states. Approval of these verification guidelines will be put before the Supreme Court on January 7 with rulings to follow over perhaps the next week or two.

Vaccine Expiration Dates driving required 3rd shots: The massive increase in Omicron cases has been partially the result of waning vaccine immunity after the standard two-shot regimen for COVID-19 vaccines. Consequently, countries such as South Korea and France have placed expiration dates on vaccines at which times a third shot would be required.

Quarantine Duration going from 10 to 5 days (if tested negative): Another major controversy in the first week of the New Year has been the duration of the quarantine time after infection or exposure from COVID-19. Previously this figure was 10 days but recently the CDC decreased this time to 5 days if certain conditions were met. After an immediate backlash to this recommendation, more conditions were introduced including COVID testing after the 5-day quarantine – to decrease the likelihood that the quarantine is not being stopped prematurely.

As the pandemic is becoming endemic, the complexity of the prevention and management of COVID-19 has increased. Organizations have continued challenges trying to keep their workers in the workplace or children in school. Smart solutions incorporating available guidelines from regulatory bodies and healthcare organizations coupled with local institutional understanding will be necessary for society to continue its path to productive normalcy.


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