Omicron Facts and Misconceptions
Omicron was first detected in the United States on December 1, 2021. One month later as we rang in 2022, it accounted for 95% of the nation's COVID cases.
And when anything spreads that fast, facts get lost and misconceptions abound. At University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), we have a close-up view of the current surge.
And there are some facts about Omicron that we want you to know and a few misconceptions to clear up.
- N95/KN95 masks are recommended for Omicron. These masks fit and filter better. And they are widely available.
- Cloth masks are not recommended unless more effective masks are not available to you.
Misconceptions About Omicron
Misconception: Omicron is not as dangerous as Delta or other waves of COVID. People who get it are less likely to be hospitalized.
Fact: Many more people are ending up in the hospital over a shorter period of time, overwhelming Maryland hospitals. While it's true that some studies point to a lower risk of hospitalization than Delta, more people are getting Omicron and that leads to more hospitalizations. The Omicron variant is 2.7 to 3.7 times more infectious, by one estimate, than Delta.
Misconception: It does not really matter if I get COVID. Omicron is not as dangerous as Delta, and it is spreading so fast that I am going to get it eventually anyway.
Fact: Although COVID could be mild for you, you will probably pass it on. When the virus spreads out of control, we are all at risk. Consider this:
- The person you give it to could experience severe illness.
- If you spread it to nurses, doctors and healthcare workers, they cannot care for patients.
- If you pass it to someone who provides critical services and/or keeps us safe (airline pilots, bus drivers, grocery store workers, teachers, police officers, firefighters), they will also be out sick — creating not just inconveniences but dangerous conditions for us all.
Misconception: The advice from experts on COVID testing, masks, vaccines and quarantines keeps changing, and no one knows what to believe anymore.
Fact: As we learn about COVID, new variants of the virus and how people react to the pandemic, new advice comes along as the science evolves. It is a sign that we are getting better at fighting the virus. While the specifics may change, we do know that vaccines, boosters, masking and social distancing are proven strategies to slow the spread and prevent hospitalization and death.
Misconception: The COVID omicron surge will not last long. Everyone says it will be over in a few weeks.
Fact: Let's hope it doesn't last long. Just remember that, while it does last, every hospital bed taken by a COVID patient is one less bed for people with cancer, heart disease or who have been through trauma like a car crash. As COVID patients take more beds, people with other life-threatening illnesses could end up waiting much longer for care. As of January 6, 2022, there were about 3,200 COVID patients in Maryland hospitals and 4,600 non-COVID patients getting care.
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