It’s happening once again. The Omicron variant is keeping people all around the world on their toes. Not too long ago, Thanksgiving in America seemed all set to mark more vibrant holidays ahead than last year. But this new COVID-19 virus strain, which has initially wreaked havoc in Africa, has other plans. Poised to be more potent than before, the variant is beginning to cast a dark cloud over Christmas 2021.
Before you press the panic button, bear in mind that we should be infinitely wiser this year than last year. It’s why keeping your ears to the ground is vital. To start, we are giving you the lowdown on this latest virus scare.
Even better, we’re detailing five action points below so you can still enjoy the season and have the best Christmas ever with the people you love most in life.
Omicron: A Variant Set to Steal Christmas?
Remember this year’s Fourth of July celebration? Who would have thought that America’s 245th birthday can be a disaster in the making?
President Biden was busy painting a rosy picture of our “independence” from the virus at the onset of the ID celebrations. Vaccines were made available by the thousands from that day onwards. But, unbeknownst to many, the Delta variant surreptitiously crept in, changing America as we know it.
Delta: A Stealthy Killer By Far
The results say it all. The pandemic claimed more American lives this year than last year. Even with millions of Americans inoculated against the virus, the pandemic-total toll rose to 773,779 in late November this year.
- CDC data shows there were 385,000 reported total COVID-19 deaths in 2020, while the yearly pandemic total has soared to over 340,000 this early.
The culprit for all these is obvious: the Delta variant, a variant with higher transmissibility and more potency. In CDC’s own graphics:
Graphics 1: Delta variant: A more aggressive COVID-19 variant
The Truth about Omicron: Separating Fact from Fiction
Imagine everybody’s surprise when a new COVID-19 strain, aptly named the Omicron variant, starts to appear on the radar as December 2021 opens. Some experts are already tagging it as having the potential to be “more virulent” than the Delta variant.
For the record, Omicron has not been detected in America as of this writing (December 1). But a host of countries has confirmed the presence of the COVID-19 variant. These territories are:
- Czech Republic
- Hong Kong
- South Africa
- United Kingdom
It’s alarming. Many of the countries listed have but very minimal Omicron cases. Japan reported but one case of the virus found. And before you are overwhelmed by tons of fake news and misinformation, know the World Health Organization (WHO) has shed light on the matter.
B.1.1.529 is a variant of concern.
President Joe Biden said it best. The B.1.1.529 variant, now officially called Omicron, should not be a cause of panic. Instead, it should be a cause of concern.
Although it’s beginning to send more patients to the South African hospitals, Omicron has not surpassed Delta levels. In early July, South Africa had 26,000 cases per day, courtesy of Delta. Omicron cases are still accelerating to 10,000/per day level in the African state.
Omicron transmissibility is not confirmed.
Transmissibility (the ability of a virus to spread quickly from one person to the next) is a crucial indicator of how problematic a virus can be. That’s one aspect that made Delta harder to contain compared to the earlier variants.
WHO, however, has made it clear that it’s not yet clear if Omicron does indeed spread faster. Although South African cases due to the variant are rising, epidemiologic studies are still underway. These studies should pinpoint the real reason - not some other factors causing the virus to spread faster than usual.
Severity of the disease is still up in the air.
While many pundits are showing alarm (including the Moderna CEO who says vaccines are less effective), WHO details it’s still too early to conclude that Omicron is deadlier than Delta. Other factors may have caused the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Africa. And these factors may or may not involve Omicron.
As such, it is still too early to say the vaccines currently being spread are ineffective against this Omicron threat.
Moreover, the global health body discussed that conclusive studies could take weeks. That means any conclusion reached beforehand is highly speculative and counterintuitive — if not outright dangerous.
In the meantime, the WHO points out prevention is still the best way to arrest this variant from spreading.
5 Hacks to Keep Things Together this Christmas
You must approach things with a grain of salt. Accepting every news item you read, online or offline, as gospel truth can be downright depressing. But that should not mean you veer away from practical measures to keep you and everyone in the family safe.
While the study on Omicron’s true nature is underway, we already know the threat posed by COVID-19. That knowledge, along with WHO guidelines, should be enough to guide us this holiday season. If we act with caution, we should be able to prevent the spread of the virus from wreaking havoc our Christmas 2021.
1) Keep things toasty
What is the best defense you can have against diseases during winter? There are a lot of reasons why illnesses thrive when mercury plummets. The flu, another virus closely related to COVID-19, affects more Americans during holidays than at any time of the year.
Scientists have found one vital piece of the winter puzzle. And the answer to why people are getting sick could be more straightforward than you think. It’s the lack of warmth.
Modifying a strain of the rhinovirus (the virus behind the common cold), scientists found out that organisms (e.g., mice) succumb to the virus faster during cold weather. Cooler temperatures translated to a lowered immune response. Overall, susceptibility to infection increases as the mercury drops.
All that can mean but one thing. The warmer you get during the winter months, the better. Making sure, therefore, that your precious abode can provide you with needed warmth is paramount.
Check how well your beloved dwelling keeps heat. Know that no matter how hard your heating system works, you’ll still not be as toasty as you need to be if your house is full of energy holes or drafts. Here are five common ways you could be losing precious warmth at home this winter.
While combing through every nook and corner of your building may seem wise, a visual inspection would fall short in doing a thorough energy audit for your home. In this regard, a handy thermal imaging camera could be your best ally. Not only can the device reveal “cold spots” in an instant, but you can rest assured you are giving justice to your precious abode.
Graphics 2: Steps to keep your precious home warm in winter
2) Pick your battles
CDC data tells us the #1 risk of contracting the virus is via face-to-face interaction. It’s not those droplets left behind after you take over a corner of a store that should scare us. It’s talking and being in close contact with people.
In light of Christmas, that certainly puts you in a predicament. With all the parties calling you and all the close friends and relatives that would want to celebrate, exposing yourself to others may be a bygone conclusion.
Hold your horses, however. If your ability to say ‘no’ needs some practice, taking a closer look at what has happened recently to Europe should be wise. Even with more than half of the people in the European Economic Area (EEA) (European Union, Norway, Iceland, etc.) inoculated, the continent has become the new epicenter of the virus, registering more than half of the average infections globally by November.
European authorities have traced the rise of infections and deaths to a variety of factors. Chief of which is:
- Complacency to wear masks
- Complacency in social distancing
- Relaxed government curbs
In such light, going to every Christmas party or gathering your hands can get into might not be such a wise idea. It’s bound to happen sooner rather than later. The more parties you attend, the greater the risk of getting infected by the virus.
It’s paramount, therefore, that you choose your gatherings well. Instead of hopping to your car to join a revelry when a friend or relative tells you to (even at short notice), decide in advance. Prioritize parties of people who you know personally well.
Even better, limit your exposure. If you have to drink up, do it with a small circle of friends around you. Your inner circle should be your cadre of guardian angels protecting you from harm.
You can limit your risks by limiting your exposure. Put a cap on the number of gatherings you’ll attend. While having fun is the season's theme, staying safe should be your top goal in mind.
CDC guidelines should bid you well, not to mention limit your risk. And that means putting on a mask as much as possible and observing social distancing whenever you deal with people you particularly don’t know.
Additionally, you should not forget to protect yourself against the weather when you go outside to party. Wear a fancy sweater to counter the cold.
An excellent way to go about in the cold is by wearing a nifty electric scarf. It’s amazing how much warmth you get with the properly charged device. Not only do you look gorgeous with one but also you cover your neck to party all night long.
3) Spread the cheers
Bummer! That may be your first reaction regarding Omicron. You may recall how remarkably restrained Christmas last year was. Well, don’t fret. With vaccines and boosters in circulation these days, you should be upbeat.
A quick look outside should tell you: There’s a lot of freedoms being enjoyed now than last year. Then again, taking too liberal a step may be counterintuitive too. So, doing a balancing act would be wise on your part.
However, if you think you’re bound to be lonely and sick this Christmas, think again. A good strategy for you to be up and about is to volunteer. A study on seniors should be enlightening.
A recent study was done by researchers at the University of California. It revealed that seniors who volunteer not only lived longer but also they had lesser health complications. Researching over 6,360 retired Americans, the experts showed that there was a lower risk of mortality for those seniors who reached out to others and volunteered.
So, there you have it. Reaching out this Christmas to people in need can be your fastest route to happiness.
Volunteering need not be risky. You don’t have to expose yourself to the virus to help. You can use the phone or the internet to reach out to people in need. Start an FB community page. If you’re running out of ideas, here’s a list of volunteer organizations you can work with this holiday.
4) Moderation is vital
It’s hard not to be tipsy during the holiday season. Indeed, alcohol can be flying off the shelves as Christmas approaches.
To boot, gifting the best bottles is a common practice for many Americans. So, with the weather dropping, taking comfort in a scotch, brandy, or a cocktail can indeed be tempting — not to mention all the alcohol available in the confines of a house party.
Before you take a glorious leap, though, take heed. While getting intoxicated on Christmas and New Year Eve may sound somewhat familiar, a bottom’s-up habit can be dangerous to your health.
Yes, you heard that right. You could put yourself in a precarious position if you get drunk often.
As a general rule, the healthier your immune system is, the faster it can overcome a virus and put you in your best shape. However, alcohol compromises all that. When you’re intoxicated, your body’s immune system also gets bent out of shape, making it harder for you to defend against COVID-19.
Virtue is in the middle. If you’re finding it hard to say no, then getting strategic about it can get you the peace of mind you need. Check out five ways to make it happen.
Additionally, being strategic can go a long way if the issue is you need alcohol to sleep. A good start is to get your bed in order — nothing an awesome electric blanket won’t help.
Right now, there’s an epic debate going on in America. On one end, there are the pro-vaxxers, and on the other, those who think vaccination is a waste of time. Well, the WHO, the foremost health expert on the whole planet, should put your fears to rest.
It’s simple. The august body says: Get vaccinated. That’s one major protection you can employ to fight the virus. Unless you want to risk it (which ultimately means risking others), getting inoculated should be the top of your mind.
If you don’t know how to proceed, these directions from CDC should guide you to your first shot, second shot, or your booster shot. And make your Christmas worthwhile.
To Wrap Things Up
Forewarned is forearmed. In the Wild, Wild West, those who make it a point to know their enemies were approaching survived far better than those who just lay around and do nothing. That’s why they put their ears to the ground to confirm if enemy horses were approaching.
Indeed, these could be unchartered territory for every human on the planet. But we should be more prepared now than ever. And that should mean: Christmas 2021 should never be canceled — Omicron variant or not.