What risk does the omicron variant pose to ending the Covid-19 pandemic?

In countries like South Africa and the United Kingdom, the omicron variant has caused a serious spike in Covid-19 cases. Now the United States is seeing an increase in cases of its own, causing worry over how Americans will fare this winter with travel, holidays, and large gatherings looming.

“Omicron may still become a major threat to public health because what omicron [possibly] lacks in severity, it makes up in transmission,” writes Vox’s Umair Irfan.

Some data has shown omicron to pose a lower risk to vaccinated individuals, but it is still a health concern for the overall population. According to estimates from the UK, omicron is 20 to 50 percent more transmissible than other variants and has now been reported in more than 30 states in the US.

But the best defense against omicron is nothing new: vaccinations.

“The vaccines still provide strong protection against hospitalization, and if a vaccinated person does fall sick and needs hospital treatment, they usually have shorter stays. With a booster shot, experts expect that protection to hold up against omicron,” writes Vox’s Dylan Scott.

Other preventive steps like masking and social distancing are still worthwhile individual measures. On a larger scale, some places like California, New York, and Washington, DC, are reinstating indoor mask mandates to curb the spread.

While data on this variant continues to emerge — including which treatments might be effective against it — health experts remained concerned about how omicron’s transmission rates will impact the country’s hospitalizations and breakthrough infections.

To learn more about the omicron variant and the risk it poses in the US and abroad, keep up to date with this storystream.

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