By Joshua Lenchus, DO, RPh, FACP, SFHM

Omicron is the newest COVID-19 variant dominating the headlines. While this new strain of the virus is raising questions, we continue to learn more information about Omicron every day. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public healthcare partners continue to monitor Omicron, here’s what we know about the variant so far:

Why Is This Happening?

The virus that causes COVID-19 is constantly changing, which produces new variants of the virus. While some variants persist, others disappear. Public health experts, such as the CDC and the World Health Organization, are monitoring Omicron and other variants to assess transmissibility, severity of infection and symptoms, as well as the effectiveness of vaccines, diagnostic testing and treatments.

What We Know           

This newest variant was first identified in South Africa and has subsequently spread to the U.S. Based on the limited number of cases, it appears this variant spreads more quickly than its predecessors, but the severity of symptoms may be milder.

Again, public health experts are still assessing Omicron, so it’s too early to make definitive statements about this variant and so it’s important that the public follow safety measures. As we learned with the Delta variant, vaccines are expected to be effective in reducing the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death.

While some treatments may not be as effective against Omicron, monoclonal antibody treatments may help the immune system recognize and respond more effectively to the virus.

What You Can Do

As we continue to fight this global pandemic, getting vaccinated and receiving the recommended booster shot is your most powerful defense against COVID-19.

Wearing a mask indoors is also effective in reducing the spread of the virus, especially if you’re unvaccinated. Continue washing your hands and practicing physical distancing when necessary.

If you’re experiencing any cold or flu-like symptoms, please stay home, distance yourself from others and consult your physicians if symptoms persist. Seek emergency medical care if needed.

Dr. Joshua Lenchus is Broward Health’s interim chief medical officer.