First it was your cousin and her partner. Then a few days later, your bestie texted you with the news. And then your colleague. Within a week, practically everyone you know had either tested positive for the Omicron variant or had been exposed. While some had cold or flu-like symptoms, most people kind of felt…fine. And if you’ve still somehow managed to not get it, you may be wondering if it’s even worth taking the necessary precautions (masking, social distancing) to avoid it—maybe you should just get Omicron over with already.
“Fortunately, for both unvaccinated and vaccinated, Omicron symptoms are generally much less severe than with prior variants,” Michael Blaivas, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Anavasi Diagnostics, tells us. And while this is definitely good news, the doctor cautions that getting Omicron isn’t something people should be trying to do deliberately. Here, five very compelling reasons why, according to the experts.
It Strains the Healthcare System
“Omicron is very contagious, causing an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases and has led to new hospitalization records exceeding the previous highs recorded in January 2021,” Dr. Marie-Elizabeth Ramas, MD, a family physician in Nashua, New Hampshire, tells us. “While most healthy people will get mild symptoms, there is still a risk of getting severely sick, requiring hospitalization, especially if you aren’t vaccinated,” she adds. Hospitals across the country are overwhelmed with patients right now, they do not need to be strained any further.
Omicron *Can* Still Be Very Serious
“Patients with Omicron are still dying,” Dr. Blaivas reminds us, although he adds that it’s very hard to separate those who died from other causes and simply had Omicron from those who died directly because of Omicron. And yes, while most people are generally fine that doesn’t mean everyone. “If you got infected, it may not be a pleasant process,” the expert adds.
And remember that even if you don’t have any serious symptoms, you could still affect someone else who is vulnerable, including children under the age of 5 who are not yet eligible for the vaccine and those who are immunocompromised.
It Would Mean Keeping Kids Out of School
“Kids with COVID still need to stay out of school to reduce the further spread of the virus,” says Dr. Ramas. (And in some cases, if a parent tests positive for COVID then that means keeping the child out of school for 24 days.) And if remote learning taught us anything, it’s that kids need to be in school (provided that it’s safe for them to do so.) “It’s critical that eligible children get their COVID vaccines to not only protect them and their families but to prevent them from continuing to miss out on the socio-emotional learning that is important to development,” adds Dr. Ramas.
Things Won’t Really Change That Much
OK, but let’s say you did get Omicron. We hate to break it to you, but your day-to-day life probably wouldn’t change that much. “Upon your recovery there would be no fewer restrictions when trying to enjoy a shopping mall, having dinner in a restaurant, going to a museum or a show or concert, or enjoying travel again and even many daily activities,” Dr. Blaivas says. “Skyrocketing prices on most things around us would not go away. Having to take multiple tests to go to your favorite vacation spot outside of the country and risking sudden policy changes that leave you stranded somewhere would not change either,” he adds. In other words… you’d still be living in a pandemic.
Getting Omicron Won’t Necessarily Impact Your Immunity
“While we want to boost our immune system as much as possible, getting Omicron won’t necessarily protect you from getting sick with other variants of COVID-19,” says Dr. Ramas. “Studies show that natural immunity to COVID-19 weakens faster than immunity provided by vaccination and only protects against that particular strain of COVID-19.”
One Last Thing…
While we likely won’t be seeing the end of the pandemic for a while, the end of the current surge is within reach, experts say. “In the United States, the CDC suggests that the current surge will last until February, but that also depends on how well we all use safe mitigating measures to reduce the spread, like proper mask-wearing and quarantining appropriately in addition to continuing vaccination efforts,” says Dr. Ramas. “The biggest way back to a new normal is for as many people ages 12 and older to get boosted if able. Proper vaccinations have been shown to reduce hospitalization and reduce the length of illness.”