As families began gathering for Thanksgiving a couple of weeks ago, Omicron, the new COVID-19 variant of concern, began popping up across the United States. COVID Booster shots for seniors are now widely available, and we encourage residents of senior living communities like ours to get theirs to protect themselves from the new strain of the virus.
On December 2, The White House announced the country is more prepared to handle Omicron than the Delta strain of the virus and will be moving forward with an extra focus on booster awareness and access for seniors.
The World Health Organization first reported on Omicron on November 24, following a spike in cases in South Africa. Now active in at least 20 countries, here’s what we know about the coronavirus mutation and how seniors can protect themselves from infection.
What is Omicron?
Omicron is a mutation of viruses that can cause COVID-19. While it’s still early in the research stage, Omicron appears to be a coronavirus variant that has bonded to a strain of the common cold.
“Omicron is milder and seems to be more diluted. More like a cold, it spreads easily,” says Pegasus Senior Living Health and Wellness Consultant Dr. Sandra Petersen.
Like COVID-19, Omicron is a type of coronavirus, meaning it looks like a crown under a microscope. The shape of this mutation may be confusing to the immune system and antibodies as it almost looks like a human genetic sequence instead of a virus.
While it’s still far too early to tell the effects of the new variant, Dr. Petersen says, “this is a time for concern but not panic.”
Omicron began appearing in South Africa, where only 24 percent of people are fully vaccinated. After experiencing a lull in coronavirus infections, the new variant with up to 50 new mutations is causing a spike in the country’s cases.
We can now tell that Omicron is responsible for the likelihood of reinfection, unlike previous strains. So far, the mutation seems to have milder symptoms than the Delta variant, but it could soon take over as the dominant form of the virus.
Will Omicron impact holiday gatherings?
With the emergence of the Omicron variant, it is crucial to be diligent in maintaining the precautions we have been practicing throughout the pandemic:
- Wash your hands.
- Wear a mask.
- Get vaccinated and get a booster when eligible.
The World Health Organization has cautioned anyone who is immunocompromised or over age 60 against traveling, and attendance at large gatherings has been discouraged for vulnerable people.
However, that doesn’t mean that holiday gatherings are “out”. With a few simple ground rules, families can enjoy the holidays together.
Five Steps To Protect Seniors from Omicron at Holiday Gatherings
Help do your part in the fight against COVID-19 and its variants. Enjoy the holidays by following these simple steps.
1. Limit the Number of Guests You Invite
Limit the number of guests you invite. Small, intimate groups are best. Vulnerable older adults should only attend small gatherings once they receive their vaccine and booster with other individuals who have as well.
2. Ensure Proper Ventilation
Gather outside if possible. Enjoy sharing stories around a fire pit on the patio or outdoor living space. Outdoor cookouts may help vulnerable guests feel more comfortable.
If you meet indoors, make sure that the area is well-ventilated, wear a mask, and socially distance guests as much as possible.
3. Get Vaccinated and Boosted; Encourage Others to Do the Same
Ensure that everyone at your gathering is vaccinated and gets a booster, if eligible.
4. Get Tested
COVID test every 24 hours for at least three days leading up to the event and three days following. Also, test if you become symptomatic with fever, chills, aching, headache, sore throat, runny nose, or cough. Those who may have been exposed or who are symptomatic should stay home.
5. Stay Vigilant
During the get-together, wash hands frequently or use hand sanitizer. Wear masks and wash hands frequently when preparing food and drinks for others.
Will booster shots protect seniors from Omicron?
“Vaccines intend to prevent severe illness and death, so the boosters are still very much recommended once your original vaccines are six months old.” – Dr. Petersen
The first major COVID-19 variant was Delta. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called Delta “highly contagious, more than 2x as contagious as previous variants.” At this time, Dr. Petersen says, “Delta is the most problematic.”
The vaccine and the authorized boosters are the most effective way to protect yourself from a severe illness from COVID-19 and its variants. While it is possible to become infected with a breakthrough virus case, the window of spreading infections to others is much smaller than in unvaccinated people.
If it has been six months* since you’ve received your COVID-19 immunization, it is strongly recommended to get your booster. Despite the mutations of the protein spikes of Omicron, the antibodies you receive from the vaccine and its booster can help fight against them.
Do Your Part in Reducing the Spread of Omicron
We are in a brand new stage of fighting the virus, and researchers are discovering the impacts of Omicron daily. Protect yourself and others by doing your part to stop the spread:
- Get your booster
- Wear your mask
- Socially distance
- Get tested
- Get your flu shot
Winter is the time for viruses to be at an all-time high. Avoid poorly ventilated indoor gatherings and crowds because we know this is the easiest way for viruses to spread. Prevent a “twindemic” and get your flu shot as well.
Check with the CDC to find access to vaccines near you.
Pegasus Senior Living and the Fight Against COVID-19
Pegasus Senior Living owns and operates communities for seniors in 12 states across the country. All of our communities have participated in vaccine clinics for our residents. Contact us to learn more about protecting yourself from the spread of Coronavirus by making a Pegasus community your new home.