Raleigh, N.C. — The omicron variant of the coronavirus has thrown a nasty curve ball to governments across the world. The variant has resulted in fast-changing protocols on how to react to COVID-19.
“We didn’t expect omicron to turn up. Part of this is difficult because it’s changing dynamics,” said Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University Hospital.
This week, the state Department of Health and Human services adopted new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines when it comes to people who’ve been exposed to someone else who tested positive for COVID-19.
In some ways, the new guidance changes the definition of being fully vaccinated. Without the booster, state and federal health leaders lump the vaccinated and unvaccinated together if they’ve been in contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19.
“I think people need to recognize that two doses of the vaccine was great for the delta [variant] but it’s not so good for omicron,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe adds that the booster shot increases effectiveness from about 35 to 75 percent against the omicron variant.
DHHS recommends isolating for five days, getting tested on the fifth day and then wearing a mask for another five days after that.
For those who have received a booster, they don’t need to isolate at all or get tested if they’ve come into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Instead, health experts recommend they just wear a mask for 10 days.
“The CDC is making sensible comments there, because your chance of being meaningfully infectious if you’re boosted and asymptomatic is incredibly low,” Wolfe said.
Still, Wolfe warns that omicron’s spread elsewhere could be on the verge of overwhelming area health care systems.
“If we have the same pace of increase of hospitalizations and illness coming through Christmas and now coming through the New Year, we are going to have to close beds. We are going to have to stop elective surgeries and we’re not going to be able to offer the same degree of emergency level services that we want to do,” he added.
Wolfe adds that people shouldn’t underestimate their symptoms as a cold. He encourages people to get a booster shot and rethink New Year’s Eve plans, especially if it involves being in a crowd.