New variant, new rules

Diego Moreno, Staff Writer

The Center for Disease Control updated its COVID-19 guidelines on masking, booster shot eligibility and booster recommendation following the spread of the omicron variant.  

Omicron is able to bypass the vaccine easily as a two-dose shot only provides 20% protection, leading to infection rates 2.5 to 3 times greater than Delta in both vaccinated and unvaccinated populations.

“I haven’t contracted it yet, but it’s shocking how empty so many of my classes are and just how contagious it really is,” freshman Tashvi Mehta said. 

Vaccine protection against omicron without the booster shot is about 20%, while a booster shot increases protection to about 75%. The lack of protection is caused by the different shape of the spike protein of omicron from the conventional spike proteins of Delta, making it harder for existing antibodies to recognize it and eliminate it from the body. 

Further contributing to the transmissibility of omicron is the way it both attacks and replicates within the body. Experiments by the University of Cambridge showed that omicron attacks and resides in the throat of infected individuals as opposed to Delta, which mainly resides in the lungs. This infection of the upper respiratory system allows it to spread easier from person to person.

“I got my booster as soon as I was eligible,” junior Sana Hamid said. “It’s hard to tell if it’s been effective for me since I can’t see the virus. However, the numbers support how it decreases the chance of reinfection and hospitalization.”

The change in the infection location has also led to a change in symptoms for the omicron variant, the most common being a sore throat and runny nose. However, experiences of COVID-19 vary widely from person to person.

“My opinion on omicron is the same as with any other variant, which is to wear a mask that passes the fit test, social distance, wash your hands and get vaccinated,” Hamid said.

With omicron, the CDC recommends wearing an N95 mask as it provides the best protection. Although N95 masks have to be specially fitted onto the person to prevent leaks, a surgical mask like the ones that the front office carries may work just as well. 

As of publication, a new subvariant of omicron known as BA.2 has spread through half the U.S. and is replacing the previous form in terms of infection rate and vaccine evasion. The World Health Organization has not seen a rise in hospitalization, however, and despite the new variant, omicron infections overall have continued to slow down.