What We Know About Omicron Infection and Spread

Published on December 13, 2021

On November 24, 2021, the World Health Organization reported the first detected cases of the Omicron variant in South Africa and classified it as a variant of concern. On December 13, Metro Health reported two cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant have been detected in Bexar County through genome testing conducted by UT Health San Antonio. San Antonio Metro Health and local agencies are monitoring this situation closely and conducting ongoing genomic surveillance in Bexar County.

How easily does Omicron spread?

The Omicron variant likely will spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and how easily Omicron spreads compared to Delta remains unknown. CDC expects that anyone with Omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms.

Will Omicron cause more severe illness?

More data are needed to know if Omicron infections, and especially reinfections and breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated, cause more severe illness or death than infection with other variants.

Will vaccines work against Omicron?

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. With other variants, like Delta, vaccines have remained effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. The recent emergence of Omicron further emphasizes the importance of vaccination and boosters.

Will treatments work against Omicron?

Scientists are working to determine how well existing treatments for COVID-19 work. Based on the changed genetic make-up of Omicron, some treatments are likely to remain effective while others may be less effective.

If omicron is milder, maybe I should catch it on purpose, to get it over with?

This is a gamble because:

  • There’s no guarantee you won’t catch COVID-19 again after Omicron, the same way some people have caught both Delta and Omicron.
  • When we say “milder,” we mean that fewer people need to be hospitalized - but plenty of people still feel knocked out for days, and some will develop long COVID.
  • If you do end up hospitalized, there’s a shortage of COVID-19 treatments and hospital staff right now.
  • Even if you don’t get very sick, you could transmit the virus to others who do.

It’s an even bigger gamble if you are unvaccinated, or older, or have multiple medical conditions. A sad, cautionary tale.