ANOTHER VIEWPOINT: Omicron and you

State health officials sounded a rather pessimistic forecast Wednesday about the near future in regards to Indiana’s COVID-19 situation.

Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box called the outlook “very bleak,” adding later “This situation will get worse before it improves.”

Box sounded that note primarily because she’s looking forward at the omicron variant of COVID-19 and noting what has happened when that variant emerged and took root in other places.

Omicron is in Indiana and the expectation is that it’s going to take its turn to circulate as the delta variant did when it showed up in July.

Indiana, which is still being afflicted heavily by the dominant delta strain, is not in a great position at the moment to see a new variant making its own waves. Cases remain high, while hospitalization numbers for COVID-19 are near record highs.

Adding omicron on top of that is not a situation health officials want to see the state in as 2022 gets underway.

But what do you need to know and what can you do to help?

• Omicron is highly, highly contagious. Like the delta variant, which proved to be significantly more infectious than the original strain of COVID-19 from 2020, omicron can be spread very easily. Because it replicates so quickly, asymptomatic and even vaccinated people can and likely will spread it.

• Omicron does not appear to be more dangerous and may even be less so. Early studies suggest that omicron doesn’t present any greater risk of hospitalization or death than the delta variant and may even be milder despite its high transmission, so that’s a positive development.

• Omicron may usurp delta as the COVID-19 king. Some early studies that the mutations present in omicron may actually leave an immunity that protects well against the delta variant, which would help squeeze out that strain long-term. The effect doesn’t appear to work the other way though — people who had delta don’t appear to get any major advantage against omicron.

• The verdict about vaccine efficacy is still out, but health officials continue to recommend people get vaccinated and boosted as its going to provide the best chance of preventing not just omicron but other strains too. From delta, we know that unvaccinated individuals remain the most at risk, with more than 80% of people ending up hospitalized being those who haven’t had shots.

• Some therapeutic treatments won’t work against omicron. Box noted that two monoclonal antibody treatments — which can be given to people early in an infection and can slash the odds of hospitalization or death — are known to not be effective against omicron, which removes a tool to help protect lives of people who do get infected.

• Drugs to help treat COVID-19 infection are in extremely limited supply. It’s good that doctors have more medicines to help patients sick with COVID, but there simply aren’t enough to go around right now. One message that was clear Wednesday was people shouldn’t rely on being rescued by a therapeutic if they get sick with COVID, because one may not be available or may be reserved from someone who clinicians judge needs it more than you.

As has been the case since day one, the best defense against an illness is not getting it all. Prevention remains the best and safest option.

Vaccines remain the best, proven option to prevent COVID-19 and/or reduce the severity of the disease if you do suffer a breakthrough case.

Masking up can help reduce transmission from a fast-replicating strain that most anyone can spread even without knowing.

Staying home when you’re sick, canceling gatherings if people are ill, washing hands, sanitizing and all of those other things you’ve heard for nearly two years now still apply.

Stopping transmission of COVID-19 is proving to be very difficult, which makes the next best thing people can do for themselves and others is to aim to mitigate its impact as much as possible.